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Squeezing Out

Confining cancer cells triggers a survival mechanism boosting metastatic ability

15 March 2022

Squeezing Out

Pushing through a crowd can be a slow, frustrating process. But for certain forms of cancer, feeling the squeeze triggers more determined movement, or metastasis. Here micro-computed tomography scans reveal healthy tissue lost in mice lungs after an eight-week invasion of previously-squeezed cancer cells (bottom) compared to non-squeezed cells (top). To investigate this, scientists passed breast cancer cells through a confined space multiple times, recreating the mechanical stresses found in living tissues. The confined cells adapt – making special proteins that prevent self-destruction via anoikis, a sort of safety mechanism that switches on when cells become detached from tissues. Bolstered by the effects of the squeeze, the breast cancer cells spread more aggressively. Using chemicals that ‘re-sensitise’ metastatic cells to anoikis may provide a new route to treating human cancers.

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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