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Modelling cancer cell invasion of surrounding tissue and how drugs might halt it

17 February 2022

Predicted Move

Crawling through a new environment, a cancer cell reaches out. In this simulation an invadopodium (top) pokes out like a nose, leading the cell into the surrounding extracellular matrix. Driving the simulation, a complex mathematical model helps researchers ponder simple questions – how do invadopodia work? How can we stop them? They find moving parts in the cell’s cytoskeleton (coloured lines) balance internal and external forces: as the cell prods upwards, bursts of myosin (red) activity help to keep the nucleus in place while proteins at the tip of the invadopodium nibble away at chemicals in the matrix (black). Repeated cycles of these movements direct the cell’s persistent creep. While these dynamics mirror those of real cancer cells, the model also predicts ways in which drugs might snarl up this complex machinery, slowing or stopping metastasis.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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