Biomedical engineers found the paths the cancer cells choose in metastasis are predictable – they tend to travel with the least energy consumed through wider, easier to navigate spaces.
According to the researchers, migrating cancer cells are “lazy” and “decide which path in the body to travel based on how much energy it takes, opting to move through wider, easier to navigate spaces rather than smaller, confined spaces to reduce energy requirements during movement.”
Preventing cancer metastasis
Traditional ways for preventing cancer metastasis include combating cancer cell adhesion, supporting immune health, heightening immune surveillance, inhibiting angiogenesis, minimizing inflammation, and surgery.
The new research, however, suggest energy expenditure and metabolism are significant factors within metastatic migration, shedding light to new methods on metabolomics and the targeting of cellular metabolism to prevent metastasis.
How researchers predict the paths
According to the researchers, "theoretical and experimental data show that energetic costs for migration through confines spaces are mediated by a balance between cell and matrix compliance as well as the degree of spatial confinement to direct decision-making."
Researchers found several factors that can influence the energy cost of cancer cells:
Cell stiffness: a biomarker of metastatic potential.
Matrix stiffness: matrix refers to the material or tissue in animal or plant cells, in which more specialized structures are embedded. In this context, it refers to the tissue in which cancer cells are embedded.
Degree of spatial confinement.
By assessing energetic costs between possible migration paths, the probability of migration choice of cancer cells is predictable.
"These cells are lazy. They want to move, but they will find the easiest way to do it," noted Reinhart-King, leader of the research. "By manipulating many different variables, we were able to track and build predictions of cellular preference for these paths of least resistance in the body based on how much energy a cell would need to move."
Further development of the study
Although current research focuses on metastatic cancer cells, Matthew Zanotelli, lead author on the research paper, noted that the results of the study could soon have broader implications for a variety of situations beyond cancer.
"This type of cellular movement happens in other instances—for example, during inflammation and around healing wounds," said Zanotelli. "We're excited to have this initial understanding of energy and cell migration and hope it will prove foundational for future, broader research."