Feeling the force of cancer

October 23, 2012, University of Basel
Using ARTIDIS to feel the tissue structure of a tumor biopsy by a nanometer-sized atomic force microscope tip (Project: Roderick Lim, Credit: Martin Oeggerli/ Micronaut 2012

The spread of cancer cells from primary tumors to other parts of the body remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. The research group of Prof. Roderick Lim, Argovia Professor for Nanobiology of the Biozentrum and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel, in collaboration with Dr. Cora-Ann Schönenberger from the Biozentrum, reveal in the journal "Nature Nanotechnology" how the unique nanomechanical properties of breast cancer cells are fundamental to the process of metastasis.

The discovery of specific breast cancer "fingerprints" was made using breakthrough nanotechnology known as ARTIDIS. Lim's team has now been awarded about 1.2 million Swiss francs from the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) to further develop ARTIDIS into a state-of-the-art device for and nanomedicine.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women with 5500 patients being diagnosed with the disease in Switzerland each year. Despite major scientific advancements in our understanding of the disease, breast cancer diagnostics remains slow and subjective. Here, the real danger lies in the lack of knowing whether metastasis, the spread of cancer, has already occurred. Nevertheless, important clues may be hidden in how metastasis is linked to specific structural alterations in both and the surrounding . This forms the motivation behind ARTIDIS ("Automated and Reliable Tissue Diagnostics"), which was conceived by Dr. med. Marko Loparic, Dr. Marija Plodinec and Prof. Roderick Lim to measure the local nanomechanical properties of tissue biopsies.

"Fingerprinting" breast tumors

At the heart of ARTIDIS lies an ultra-sharp tip of several nanometers in size that is used as a local mechanical probe to "feel" the cells and extracellular structures within a tumor . In this way, a nanomechanical "fingerprint" of the tissue is obtained by systematically acquiring tens of thousands of force measurements over an entire biopsy. Subsequent analysis of over one hundred patient biopsies could confirm that the fingerprint of malignant is markedly different as compared to healthy tissue and benign tumors. This was validated by histological analyses carried out by clinicians at the University Hospital Basel, which showed a complete agreement with ARTIDIS. Moreover, the same nanomechanical fingerprints were found in animal studies initiated at the Friedrich Miescher Institute.

Plodinec, first author of the study, explains: "This unique fingerprint reflects the heterogeneous make-up of malignant tissue whereas healthy tissue and benign tumors are more homogenous." Strikingly, malignant tissue also featured a marked predominance of "soft" regions that is a characteristic of cancer cells and the altered microenvironment at the tumor core. The significance of these findings lies in reconciling the notion that soft cancer cells can more easily deform and "squeeze" through their surroundings. Indeed, the presence of the same type of "soft" phenotype in secondary lung tumors of mice reinforces the close correlation between the physical properties of cancer cells and their metastatic potential.

ARTIDIS in the clinics

"Resolving such basic scientific aspects of cancer further underscores the use of nanomechanical fingerprints as quantitative markers for cancer diagnostics with the potential to prognose metastasis.", states Loparic, who is project manager for ARTIDIS. On an important practical note, a complete biopsy analysis by ARTIDIS currently takes four hours in comparison to conventional diagnostics, which can take one week. Based on the potential societal impact of ARTIDIS to revolutionize diagnostics, Lim's team and the Swiss company Nanosurf AG have now been awarded about 1.2 million Swiss francs by the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) to further develop ARTIDIS into a state-of-the-art device for disease diagnostics with further applications in nanomedicine.

Over the next two years, Lim and colleagues will engage and work closely with clinicians to develop ARTIDIS into an easy-to-use "push-button" application to fingerprint diseases across a wide range of biological tissues. As a historical starting point, the first ARTIDIS demo-lab has already been established at the University Hospital Eye Clinic to collect data on retinal diseases with the goal of improving treatment strategies.

Explore further: Researchers discover protein that could help prevent the spread of cancer

More information: Marija Plodinec, Marko Loparic, Christophe A. Monnier, Ellen C. Obermann, Rosanna Zanetti-Dallenbach, Philipp Oertle, Janne T. Hyotyla, Ueli Aebi, Mohamed Bentires-Alj, Roderick Y. H. Lim and Cora-Ann Schoenenberger. The nanomechanical signature of breast cancer. Nature Nanotechnology; Published online October 21, 2012

Related Stories

Researchers discover protein that could help prevent the spread of cancer

May 4, 2011
A protein capable of halting the spread of breast cancer cells could lead to a therapy for preventing or limiting the spread of the disease.

New signaling pathway linked to breast cancer metastasis

April 2, 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 ...

Study identifies gene critical to development and spread of lung cancer

April 24, 2012
A single gene that promotes initial development of the most common form of lung cancer and its lethal metastases has been identified by researchers at Mayo Clinic in Florida. Their study suggests other forms of cancer may ...

Protein that functions in normal breast may also contribute to breast cancer metastasis

February 16, 2012
The trefoil factor 3 (TFF3) protein protects and maintains the integrity of the epithelial surface in the normal breast. New research has found that while TFF3 protein expression is higher in well-differentiated low grade ...

Recommended for you

Researchers develop swallowable test to detect pre-cancerous Barrett's esophagus

January 17, 2018
Investigators at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center have developed a simple, swallowable test for early detection of Barrett's esophagus that offers promise ...

Scientists zoom in to watch DNA code being read

January 17, 2018
Scientists have unveiled incredible images of how the DNA code is read and interpreted—revealing new detail about one of the fundamental processes of life.

Presurgical targeted therapy delays relapse of high-risk stage 3 melanoma

January 17, 2018
A pair of targeted therapies given before and after surgery for melanoma produced at least a six-fold increase in time to progression compared to standard-of-care surgery for patients with stage 3 disease, researchers at ...

Dulling cancer therapy's double-edged sword

January 17, 2018
Researchers have discovered that killing cancer cells can actually have the unintended effect of fueling the proliferation of residual, living cancer cells, ultimately leading to aggressive tumor progression.

T-cells engineered to outsmart tumors induce clinical responses in relapsed Hodgkin lymphoma

January 16, 2018
WASHINGTON-(Jan. 16, 2018)-Tumors have come up with ingenious strategies that enable them to evade detection and destruction by the immune system. So, a research team that includes Children's National Health System clinician-researchers ...

More evidence of link between severe gum disease and cancer risk

January 16, 2018
Data collected during a long-term health study provides additional evidence for a link between increased risk of cancer in individuals with advanced gum disease, according to a new collaborative study led by epidemiologists ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.