Journey to the heart of a breast tumor: Le Bulletel

and immediately 2020

New technique could allow better detection and mapping of cancer

Source: McGill Newsroom

Using a new technique, a team of researchers at McGill University have uncovered tiny once undetectable “hot spots” – regions of extreme stiffness – in aggressive and invasive breast tumors. Their findings suggest, for the very first time, that metastases can form, even if the tumor contains only tiny areas of rigidity. Although embryonic, this technique could prove useful for the detection and mapping of aggressive cancers, believe the researchers.

“We can now see these characteristics, because our technique allows us to take measurements in living and intact three-dimensional tissues,” says Chris Moraes, professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at McGill University, holder of a chair of researcher from Canada and lead author of a recent article in Nature Communications. “When you damage the tissue samples in the slightest – which normally happens with normal techniques – you can’t see these hot spots. “

“Smart” hydrogels to monitor cancer progression

Researchers made tiny hydrogel sensors that can expand on demand – like inflating cell-sized balloons – and then inserted them into three-dimensional cell cultures and mouse models of breast cancer. . By triggering hydrogel expansion, they can measure very precise areas of intratumoral stiffness.

The result of a collaboration between the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Research Center at McGill University, this innovative technique allows researchers to capture, from the point of view of the cancer cell, what is happening in the surrounding areas.

The cell scans its surroundings before acting

“Human cells are not static. They cling to the surrounding tissues, stretch them to assess their elasticity and generally adopt the behavior indicated: immune cells can activate, stem cells, specialize, and cancer cells, pour into a dangerous aggressiveness, explains the Pr Moraes. Usually, breast cancer cells are surrounded by rather soft tissue. But we found that in aggressive cancerous tumors, cells collided with much stiffer tissue than one might think, as stiff in fact as hard, dry, long-forgotten gummy bears. “

The researchers believe they have shed light on previously unknown effects of cell mechanics on cancer progression, even in the early stages of the disease.

“If we have methods to analyze cell mechanics in three-dimensional tissues, perhaps we can better assess the risks and prognosis of the patient,” says Stephanie Mok, lead author of the article and doctoral student in the Department of Engineering chemical. For now, it is not known whether these “hot spots”, these areas of rigidity, really advance the cancer or if it is a simple correlation, but, one thing is certain, it is a crucial question to which we have to respond. “

The article “Mapping cellular-scale internal mechanics in 3D tissues with thermally responsive hydrogel probes”, by Stephanie Mok et al., Was published in the journal Nature Communications.


The study was funded by the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), a Graduate Scholarship at the NSERC Doctoral Level (CGS D), a NSERC Graduate Scholarship – Doctoral (ES D) and the Canada Research Chair in Advanced Cellular Microenvironments.

October 27, 2020

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