Modeling metastasis

This is an illustration of the early stage of metastasis, called "intravasation." Tumor cells (blue) in contact with the bloodstream experience shear forces that can be strong enough to exceed the adhesion forces keeping them attached to the primary tumor. Once released into the bloodstream, they become circulating tumor cells capable of spreading the disease to other sites. Credit: The University of Southern California, Oregon Health and Science University, and the Scripps Research Institute

Cancer metastasis, the escape and spread of primary tumor cells, is a common cause of cancer-related deaths. But metastasis remains poorly understood. Studies indicate that when a primary tumor breaks through a blood vessel wall, blood's "stickiness" tears off tumor cells the way a piece of tape tears wrapping paper.

Until now, no one knew the physical forces involved in this process, the first step in metastasis. Using a statistical technique employed by animators, scientists created a new computer simulation that reveals how cancer cells enter the bloodstream. The researchers present their work in a paper accepted to the (AIP) journal Physics of Fluids.

To create the simulation, a group of scientists from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore., and The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., first had to describe the physics of the process. The researchers couldn't directly measure the fluid forces acting on a tumor cell in the body. Instead, they imaged blood flowing at different velocities over a breast cancer cell on a glass plate. Then, they bridged the gap between known and unknown with an Active Shape Model, a statistical technique that animators use to create furry monsters. Active Shape Models track the shape of an object as it dynamically deforms. When combined with the experimental data, the modeling enabled the team to compute the fluid forces acting on the cell, and that in turn helped them tune the simulation.

The study is an important first step toward understanding the mechanical properties of and how they travel over the course of the disease, the researchers say. The ultimate goal is developing of metastasis' multi-step process, and thus new therapies to target metastasis.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New signaling pathway linked to breast cancer metastasis

Apr 02, 2012

Lymph nodes help to fight off infections by producing immune cells and filtering foreign materials from the body, such as bacteria or cancer cells. Thus, one of the first places that cancer cells are found when they leave ...

Tracking breast cancer cells on the move

Jun 14, 2012

Breast cancer cells frequently move from their primary site and invade bone, decreasing a patient's chance of survival. This process of metastasis is complex, and factors both within the breast cancer cells and within the ...

Genes set scene for metastasis

Apr 11, 2007

Biologists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) have identified a set of genes expressed in human breast cancer cells that work together to remodel the network of blood vessels at the site of the primary tumor. ...

Recommended for you

Why we should vaccinate boys against HPV as well as girls

3 hours ago

Gillian Prue, from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen's University of Belfast, says that the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is common in men and can lead to genital warts and the development of some head and ...

Generation of tanners see spike in deadly melanoma

15 hours ago

(AP)—Stop sunbathing and using indoor tanning beds, the acting U.S. surgeon general warned in a report released Tuesday that cites an alarming 200 percent jump in deadly melanoma cases since 1973.

Penn team makes cancer glow to improve surgical outcomes

15 hours ago

The best way to cure most cases of cancer is to surgically remove the tumor. The Achilles heel of this approach, however, is that the surgeon may fail to extract the entire tumor, leading to a local recurrence.

User comments