Using the Force on Cancer
It’s a tough life for a cancer cell. First, there’s all that exhausting, uncontrolled dividing. Then, there’s the peer pressure created by a cell’s rapidly multiplying neighbors. Not to mention being squished by the abundant fluid that accumulates as inflammation spreads in the surrounding tissue.
As if those hassles weren’t enough, in order to travel to other parts of the body—a process known as metastasis—cancer cells have to squeeze themselves through hardened tissue and crevices in the walls of blood vessels to access the bloodstream. Once there, they float through the circulatory system, dock at a distant site—perhaps in a different organ—and slip back through vessel walls and tissue to continue dividing.
This rough-and-tumble existence, of course, doesn’t elicit sympathy from cancer researchers, but the stress that the cells experience and the structural changes they make to adapt to their challenging lifestyle have piqued scientists’ interest in recent years. One technique in particular, atomic force microscopy (AFM), is showing promise as a probe of cancer cell morphology and stress.