Research Overview: Stiffness Sensing as a Metastatic Indicator
Collaboration with the Al Crosby Lab at the University of Massachusetts, Polymer Science
Dannielle Ryman and Ravitheja Yelleswaru
Metastasis is the leading cause of fatality for women diagnosed with breast cancer. It is well known that tumor environments stiffen: palpitation remains a powerful tool for early tumor detection. More recently, this matrix stiffening event at the sites of tumors has been linked to morphological changes in the tumor itself, and it is hypothesized by us and others that these stiffness changes may contribute to single cell metastasis. However, the mechanisms by which metastatic cells sense and respond to stiffness is unclear, and it is not yet known if metastatic cells respond to stiffness cues in a unique way. We are working with Yuri Ebata and Yujie Liu from Al Crosby's lab in PSE to make novel substrates with unique presentation of stiffness arrays and mechanical length scales. We are visualizing how breast cancer cells of varying known metastatic capability sense and respond (namely, migration and mitosis) to these changes in stiffness. From there, we will identify the molecular mechanisms by which these cells have either heightened or dampened stiffness sensing, in order to develop novel druggable targets to prevent metastasis in vivo.