Soft-matter physics unravels the likelihood of cancer spread – Physics World

reveal whether cancers Soft-matter physics unravels the likelihood of cancer spread – Physics World
Soft-matter physics unravels the likelihood of cancer spread – Physics World

Soft-matter physics unravels the likelihood of cancer spread

Cancer is a complex and devastating disease that affects millions of people worldwide. One of the major concerns with cancer is its ability to spread from the primary tumor to other parts of the body, a process known as metastasis. Understanding the mechanisms behind cancer spread is crucial for developing effective treatments and improving patient outcomes.

What is soft-matter physics?

Soft-matter physics is a branch of physics that deals with the study of materials that are neither solid nor liquid but rather possess properties of both. These materials, often referred to as soft matter, include substances like gels, foams, and biological tissues. Soft matter is characterized by its ability to undergo large deformations under external forces, making it an ideal field of study for understanding the behavior of biological systems.

Linking soft-matter physics to cancer spread

Recent advances in soft-matter physics have allowed researchers to investigate the physical properties of biological tissues and their role in the spread of cancer. It has been discovered that the mechanical properties of tumors and surrounding tissues play a crucial role in determining the likelihood of cancer metastasis.

Soft-matter physics provides a framework for understanding the mechanical behavior of these tissues and how it affects cell dynamics. By studying the mechanical properties of tumors, such as their stiffness and viscoelasticity, scientists can gain insights into the forces exerted on cells and the likelihood of their migration to other parts of the body.

Cell migration and the role of mechanical forces

Cell migration is a key process in cancer metastasis. When cells detach from the primary tumor, they need to navigate through the surrounding tissues and invade blood vessels or lymphatic vessels to reach distant sites. Soft-matter physics helps unravel the intricate relationship between mechanical forces and cell migration.

Cells respond to mechanical cues in their environment, such as the stiffness of the extracellular matrix (ECM). The ECM is a network of proteins and other molecules that provide structural support to tissues. Cancer cells can modify the ECM, altering its mechanical properties and creating pathways for their migration.

Research in soft-matter physics has shown that cancer cells are sensitive to the mechanical properties of the ECM. Stiff or dense matrices provide physical barriers that hinder cell migration, while softer or more porous matrices allow for easier cell movement. Understanding these mechanical cues can reveal whether cancers are more likely to spread to specific organs or tissues.

Advanced techniques and modeling

Soft-matter physics has also contributed to the development of advanced techniques and modeling approaches that enable researchers to study cancer progression and metastasis in a controlled laboratory setting. These techniques include the use of microfluidic devices, biophysical models, and computational simulations.

Microfluidic devices provide a platform for studying cell behavior in a controlled microenvironment that mimics the conditions found in the body. These devices allow for the precise manipulation of mechanical cues, such as fluid flow and substrate stiffness, to investigate their effects on cell migration and metastasis.

Biophysical models and computational simulations use mathematical equations and computer algorithms to simulate the behavior of cells and tissues. These models allow researchers to predict and analyze the response of cells under different mechanical conditions, providing insights into the factors that contribute to cancer spread.

Implications for cancer treatment

The insights gained from soft-matter physics research have the potential to impact cancer treatment strategies. By understanding the mechanical cues that drive cancer metastasis, scientists can develop targeted therapies that disrupt the processes involved in cell migration.

For example, drugs that target the protein networks involved in ECM remodeling can potentially inhibit cancer cell invasion and metastasis. Furthermore, advanced imaging techniques that assess the mechanical properties of tumors can aid in the early detection of high-risk tumors and guide treatment decisions.


Soft-matter physics is at the forefront of unraveling the likelihood of cancer spread. By studying the mechanical properties of tumors and their surrounding tissues, researchers can gain valuable insights into the forces that drive cell migration and metastasis. The advancements in this field have the potential to revolutionize cancer treatment and improve patient outcomes. As our understanding of soft-matter physics continues to grow, so does our ability to combat this devastating disease.


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