‘Jammed’ cancer cells may explain some tumors’ spread

Biologists and physicists are becoming increasingly convinced that clusters of tumor cells that can move through the body like a phalanx may be responsible for some of the deadliest metastatic cancers.

An August 16, 2016 article in Quanta Magazine outlines how research has been pointing to the importance of the mechanics, and not just the genetics, governing cell behavior. New findings about cell jamming suggest that there may be new avenues for fighting cancer that focus on tumor cells’ transitions between being jammed and unjammed.

Research by Jeffrey Fredberg, professor of bioengineering and physiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has uncovered key evidence about how jammed cells behave.

“People had always thought that the mechanical implications were at the most downstream end of the causal cascade, and at the most upstream end are genetic and epigenetic factors,” he told Quanta. “Then people discovered that physical forces and mechanical events actually can be upstream of genetic events—that cells are very aware of their mechanical microenvironments.”

He added, “Certainly in the physics community there’s momentum [about the importance of jamming]. Cells obey the rules of physics — there’s no choice.”

Read the Quanta Magazine article: Jammed Cells Expose the Physics of Cancer

Learn more

No traffic jams in asthmatic cells (Harvard Chan School feature)