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Ovarian cells are stiffer and more viscous when benign

May 16, 2017

The Virginia Tech researchers selected to study ovarian cancer because it is one of the most lethal types in women and is normally diagnosed late in older patients when the disease has already progressed and metastasized.

Agah reported that no previous information existed about the biomechanical properties of both malignant and benign human ovarian cells, and how they change over time.

However, the mouse studies conducted by this interdisciplinary group of researchers at Virginia Tech have now shown how a cell, as it undergoes transformation towards malignancy, changes its size, loses its innate design of a tightly organized structure, and instead acquires the capacity to grow independently and form tumors.

"We have characterized the cells according to their phenotype into early-benign, intermediate, and late-aggressive stages of cancer that corresponded with their biomechanical properties," Agah reported.

"The mouse ovarian cancer model represents a valid and novel alternative to studying human cell lines and provides important information on the progressive stages of the ovarian cancer," Schmelz and Roberts commented.

"Cell viscosity is an important characteristic of a material because all materials exhibit some form of time-dependent strain," Agah said. This trait is an "imperative" part of any analysis of biological cells.

Their findings confirm that the cytoskeleton affects the biomechanical properties of cells. Changes in these properties can be related to the motility of cancer cells and potentially their ability to invade other cells.

"When cells undergo changes in their viscoelastic properties, they are increasingly able to deform, squeeze, and migrate through size-limiting pores of tissue or vasculature onto other parts of the body," Agah said.

Source: Virginia Tech