Cell Stiffness as a Biomarker of the Metastatic Potential of Cancer Cells

Abnormal cell mechanical stiffness can point to the development of various diseases including cancers. The laboratory of ICRC faculty member Todd Sulchek uses atomic force microscopy (AFM) to directly measure relative cell stiffness. In a recent collaboration with the McDonald lab, it was found that relative cell stiffness may be an effective biomarker of the metastatic potential of cancer cells. The Sulchek lab has also developed a new high-throughput technique for continuous cell separation utilizing variation in cell stiffness. A microfluidic channel decorated by periodic diagonal ridges is used to separate cancer cells from normal cells. Diagonal ridges within the microfluidic flow channel compress and deform the cells in rapid succession to translate each cell perpendicular to the channel axis in proportion to its stiffness. Soft cells can be separated from stiff cells at physiological concentrations with a fivefold enrichment of cell populations. This microfluidic device may lead to a way for conducting rapid and low-cost screening of body fluids for the detection of cancer cells.