Left: Growing cancer cells in a tumor. Right: Cell seen through a microscope that measures the tensions in the surface of the cell, so called traction force microscopy.
What forces are interacting with the cells?
Cells are exposed to diverse forces including compression and tension from the neighbouring cells, fluid shear stress, hydrostatic and osmotic pressure, and the stiffness of the extracellular matrix.
What is mechanotransduction?
Cells sense the mechanical stimuli from their environments, and then convert them to biochemical responses through a process called mechanotransduction. In mechanotransduction there are dozens of mechanisms. Most of these interactions have similar underlying principle. Stress or strain typically induces conformational and/or organizational changes to the sensing unit, which can be a protein or an ion channel. Their structural changes regulate binding organization, or ion flow, which ultimately influence cell function.
You study cancer cells, benign and metastatic in this project. Does your work contribute to cancer research?
Definitely, we don’t know what the most important mechanical driving force for metastasis is, however, we know that the cells and the environment mechanically change a lot in the case of cancer. One of my work contribution is to design a device to be used in cancer diagnosis and also to understand the role of mechanics in the metastasis.
Describe this micro world in which the cells interact in your thesis. Why did you use polymer gels for your research?
As I mentioned before cells are exposed to different forces and one of them is the stiffness of the extracellular matrix. In my thesis I have used different polymer gels to create mechanically relevant environments for the cells. By doing this we are able to understand how the mechanics of the microenvironment influence the cell function.
What did you find about the interaction between the cells and the polymer gels?
To summarize, I learned that the mechanical properties of the gel (extracellular matrix) influence both growth and migration. In the case of metastatic breast cancer my experiment showed that higher mechanical properties of the gel induce more growth and the cells generate more power.
How has your cooperation with SuMo been working for you?
I think it is always good to interact with scientist from both industry and academy, SuMo provide such an environment.