Stiffness Could Be Possible Biomarker To Predict Metastatic Potential Of Ovarian Cancer Cells

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers from Georgia Tech recently found that ovarian cancer cells that are highly metastatic are much softer than ovarian cancer cells that are less metastatic.

The findings on cell stiffness in relation to cancer cells were recently published in the academic journal PLoS ONE.

“In order to spread, metastatic cells must push themselves into the bloodstream. As a result, they must be highly deformable and softer,” explained Todd Sulchek, an assistant professor at the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, in a prepared statement. “Our results indicate that cell stiffness may be a useful biomarker to evaluate the relative metastatic potential of ovarian and perhaps other types of cancer cells.”

In the study, the researchers utilized atomic force microscopy (AFM) to help them better understand the mechanical properties of different ovarian cell lines. The stiffness of the cells could be measured with a mechanical probe. The findings of the study showed that cancerous ovarian cells are usually softer than cells that are non-malignant.

“This is a good example of the kinds of discoveries that only come about by integrating skills and knowledge from traditionally diverse fields such as molecular biology and bioengineering,” remarked John McDonald, the director of Georgia Tech´s Integrated Cancer Research Center whose lab worked with Sulchek´s lab in the study, in the statement. “Although there are a number of developing methodologies to identify circulating cancer cells in the blood and other body fluids, this technology offers the added potential to rapidly determine if these cells are highly metastatic or relatively benign.”

The team of investigators hopes to continue to develop the technology, so that it may help clinicians develop new cancer treatments. In particular, they believe it would be useful in creating chemotherapies that could be used by ovarian cancer patients as well as patients suffering from other forms of cancer.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), out of all the cancers related to the female reproductive system, ovarian cancer causes the most deaths. In particular, older women are more susceptible to the disease. Approximately 90 percent of women who are diagnosed with the disease are older than 40 years of age.

To promote awareness of the illness, the CDC collaborated with the Department of Health and Human Services´ Office on Women Health to produce a national campaign. The campaign focuses on upping awareness and understanding of the five different gynecological cancers, including ovarian cancer. The Gynecological Cancer Education and Awareness Act that was enacted in 2005 also helps provide support for the project.

As well, the organization recommends that females be cognizant of signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer as it can be diagnosed in its early stages. Ovarian cancer can lead to vaginal bleeding or irregular discharge from the vagina. As well, females may suffer from back pain, pain in the abdominal or pelvic area, or bloating. There are no easy ways to screen for ovarian cancer, so medical professionals recommend that females consult a doctor if there are any noticeable changes in the body.