Soft-matter physics unravels the potential of cancer metastasis – Physics World

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

Soft-Matter Physics Unravels the Potential of Cancer Metastasis


Cancer metastasis, the spread of cancer cells from the initial tumor to other parts of the body, is a complex and devastating process that often leads to poor patient outcomes. While significant progress has been made in understanding the underlying mechanisms of cancer, many questions remain unanswered. Recent advancements in the field of soft-matter physics have shed new light on the physical properties of cancer cells and their interactions with surrounding tissues, offering a promising avenue for unraveling the potential of cancer metastasis.

Understanding Soft-Matter Physics

Soft-matter physics is a branch of physics that focuses on the study of materials with complex structures and properties, such as biological tissues, polymers, and gels. Unlike traditional solid-state materials, soft matter exhibits unique behaviors that arise from its inherent flexibility, deformability, and interactions at the molecular level. By applying the principles of soft-matter physics, researchers can gain insights into the dynamic behavior of biological systems, including cancer cells and their microenvironment.

Exploring the Physical Properties of Cancer Cells

Cancer cells, unlike normal cells, possess distinct physical properties that contribute to their ability to invade surrounding tissues and spread to distant sites. Soft-matter physicists have been investigating various physical characteristics of cancer cells, such as cell stiffness, adhesion, and deformability. These properties play crucial roles in the metastatic process, allowing cancer cells to squeeze through narrow spaces, adhere to blood vessels, and survive in new environments.

Cell Stiffness and Metastasis

One key aspect of cancer cell behavior studied in soft-matter physics is cell stiffness. Research has shown that cancer cells tend to be stiffer than healthy cells, which can affect their ability to migrate through tissues. The increased stiffness of cancer cells is often attributed to alterations in their cytoskeleton, the internal framework that provides structural support. By understanding the mechanics behind cell stiffness, scientists can develop targeted therapies to modulate the metastatic potential of cancer cells.

Adhesion and the Journey of Cancer Cells

Another critical factor in cancer metastasis is cellular adhesion, the process by which cells stick to each other or to the surrounding matrix. Soft-matter physics has provided valuable insights into the adhesion properties of cancer cells, enabling researchers to understand how cancer cells detach from the primary tumor and navigate through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to reach distant organs. By targeting the adhesive properties of cancer cells, it may be possible to disrupt the metastatic process and prevent the spread of cancer.

Deformability and Tissue Invasion

Cancer cells exhibit high deformability, allowing them to squeeze through narrow gaps between cells and invade nearby tissues. Soft-matter physics has contributed to our understanding of the mechanical properties of cancer cells and their ability to deform under applied forces. By studying the physical interactions between cancer cells and their surroundings, scientists can develop strategies to block the invasive behavior of cancer cells and impede metastasis.

Advancing Cancer Detection and Treatment

The insights gleaned from soft-matter physics research have significant implications for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer metastasis. By understanding the physical properties of cancer cells and their interactions with the microenvironment, scientists can develop novel diagnostic tools and therapeutic interventions.

Targeted Drug Delivery

Soft-matter physics has paved the way for targeted drug delivery systems that exploit the physical properties of cancer cells. By designing nanoparticles or drug carriers with specific adhesive properties, scientists can enhance the targeted accumulation of anticancer drugs in tumors while minimizing their distribution in healthy tissues. This personalized approach increases treatment efficacy and reduces side effects, ultimately improving patient outcomes.

Microfluidic Devices for Cancer Analysis

Microfluidics, an interdisciplinary field that combines engineering, physics, and chemistry, has benefitted from the principles of soft-matter physics. Microfluidic devices enable the precise manipulation and analysis of small volumes of fluids, making them ideal for studying cancer cells. The integration of soft-matter physics into microfluidic platforms has led to the development of innovative tools for cancer diagnosis, prognosis, and monitoring treatment response.

Modulating Tumor Microenvironment

The tumor microenvironment, consisting of various components such as extracellular matrix, immune cells, and blood vessels, plays a crucial role in cancer progression and metastasis. Soft-matter physics offers insights into the physical properties and interactions within the tumor microenvironment, highlighting potential targets for therapeutic intervention. By modifying the mechanical properties of the tumor microenvironment, researchers can disrupt the supportive conditions for cancer cells and hinder their ability to spread.


Soft-matter physics has emerged as a powerful tool for unraveling the potential of cancer metastasis. By investigating the physical properties of cancer cells and their interactions with the surrounding microenvironment, scientists are gaining valuable insights into the complex mechanisms underlying the spread of cancer. This interdisciplinary approach holds great promise for improving cancer detection, treatment, and patient outcomes. The integration of soft-matter physics into cancer research highlights the importance of diverse scientific disciplines working together to overcome one of the greatest challenges in healthcare – combating cancer metastasis.[2]

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