Stephanie Geerts

Imaging the forces driving cancer
Started on October, 2020

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In the last years there has been a growing interest in the impact of mechanical cues on cancer progression. It has become evident that the research of tumorigenic processes must take into consideration the contribution of the microenvironment, which encompasses the biochemical and biophysical properties of the ECM. During many cancerous processes, e.g. invasion and metastatic progression, cells need to penetrate into the surrounding tissue, breakdown cell-cell contacts, remodel cell adhesion sites and follow a chemo-attractive path through the ECM. Understanding the physical forces that tumor cells experience and overcome in their microenvironment may improve our ability to target cancer progression. In fact, quantification of the changes occurring at a cellular level and elucidation of the underlying molecular mechanisms represents a significant and ongoing challenge in cancer research. Such knowledge has the potential to uncover novel insights into how cells invade and metastasize, and to identify new therapeutic targets. Despite the growing interest, understanding mechanotransduction at a cellular level is hindered by a lack of suitable model systems and characterization methods. The main goal of this project is to study how biophysical cues drive cancer progression using 3D model systems. By using a combination of advanced methods for material characterization at the micrometer scale, novel biomimetic matrices and 3D tumor models, the mechanical properties of the matrix and the cell-matrix interactions in the tumor microenvironment will be probed, with molecular resolution, for a wide range of time scales.