July 17, 2024

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Engineers put the squeeze on cancer cells – Information Centre – Research & Innovation

EU-funded scientists have utilized engineering know-how to recognize what controls the mechanical toughness of residing cells. Their results provide new insights into the distribute of cancers as effectively as into diseases of the coronary heart and nervous technique.


© Eduard Muzhevskyi, #247334179, source:stock.adobe.com 2021

ATR is an enzyme that will help manage the integrity of the genome. When it does not work appropriately it can guide to problems this sort of as most cancers, neurological issues and coronary heart illness. But new research reveals that ATR also affects the elasticity of cells.

‘These dual features of ATR, on the genome and on cell elasticity, have extremely critical distinctions,’ states Marco Foiani, scientific director of IFOM, a most cancers research institute in Milan, Italy. ‘While the very first is protecting in direction of protecting against tumours, the next might be damaging – we suspect that ATR might be required for the metastasis of most cancers cells.’

With aid from the EU-funded MECHANOCHECK project, Foiani employed postdoctoral researcher Qingsen Li from Singapore to use his mechanical engineering expertise to figure out how ATR affects cell elasticity.

Exploding cells

Li made use of an atomic-power microscope to evaluate the stiffness of cells and their nuclei. ‘ATR faulty cells ended up located to be 2 times as gentle as normal cells,’ Li states. ‘This obtaining allowed us to exhibit that ATR influences interstitial migration and metastasis.’

In a pioneering series of experiments, Li designed two devices: 1 to extend cells and the other to compress them. He confirmed that cells lacking in ATR ended up softer and fewer resilient than normal cells and consequently fewer probably to survive getting squeezed or stretched.

‘To more validate the discovery, we made use of microfabricated channels to mimic a blood capillary and investigated how cells migrate by means of individuals constrictions,’ Li points out. He located that cells without ATR ended up fatally broken. ‘They pretty much explode,’ states Foiani. ‘And that’s since of a lack of stiffness. It is remarkable to enjoy this.’

Foiani speculates that this could explain why medications identified to inhibit the function of ATR can be effective in chemotherapy. The softer, weaker most cancers cells are fewer equipped to press by means of other tissues to sort secondary tumours.

He also thinks the results could be relevant to Seckel syndrome, a rare and lethal illness the place the nervous technique does not grow appropriately, probably because of to a lack of ATR which weakens the building nerve cells.

The group are now making use of Li’s devices to study the part of ATR in coronary heart muscle mass, the place the cells are constantly stretching and enjoyable, in the hope of better comprehension some types of coronary heart illness.

Mechanomedicine patents

The project ended in March 2018 and Li now prospects his very own mechanomedicine technologies group at IFOM. ‘IFOM furnished the excellent training setting to pursue my proposed project and boost my artistic capacity in the creation and implementation of modern technologies,’ he states.

He is doing work with TTFactor, a technologies transfer organization established up by IFOM and two other Italian institutions to commercialise improvements in most cancers research. The cell-stretching gadget has by now been patented and a patent for the cell-compression gadget has been submitted.

Li’s work was supported by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Particular person Fellowship, a scheme Foiani describes as ‘fantastic’. ‘To be equipped to entice a mechanical engineer to work on biomedical challenges is so critical for us,’ he states. ‘Qingsen not only modified my lab, he modified the whole institute!

‘In IFOM, we now have a programme in collaboration with the Mechanobiology Institute in Singapore. So, we begun from biophysics, then we went to mechanobiology and now it’s mechanomedicine which is our course now.’