"We compared the stiffness of normal breast cells and highly metastatic breast cancer cells, and found the cancer cells to be significantly more 'squishy' or deformable," Staunton said. "This makes sense because in order for a cell to metastasize, it has to squeeze through tight passages in the lymphatics and microvasculature, so being squishy helps cancer cells spread through the body."
"We also looked at the morphology of their nuclei," he added. "The cancer cell nuclei were found to have a characteristic 'crushed beach-ball' shape that might correspond to the abnormal chromosomal rearrangements associated with cancer."
"Finally, we took individual cells, put each one in an airtight chamber, and measured how much oxygen they consumed," Staunton said. "This tells us about their metabolism. We found the cancer cells use less oxygen, relying more on glycolysis, kind of like what bacteria and yeast do."
Taken together, researchers at the 12 PSOC's used some 20 distinct techniques, including atomic force microscopy, ballistic intracellular nano-rheology, cell surface receptor expression levels, differential interference contrast microscopy, micro-patterning and extracellular matrix secretion, and traction force microscopy.
The work has enabled a comprehensive cataloging and comparison of the physical characteristics of non-malignant and metastatic cells, and the molecular signatures associated with those characteristics. This made it possible to identify unique relationships between observations, Staunton said.
"We were surprised that even though the cancer cells are softer, they are able to exert more contractile forces on the fibers surrounding them which was determined at the Cornell University PSOC by a method called traction force microscopy. This pair of characteristics is somewhat contradictory from a
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Arizona State University