David Mooney, Harvard University
Viscoelasticity and Cancer
Written by Alana F. Ogata
Understanding the time-dependent mechanical properties of matrices in the body can reveal important mechanisms in cancer biology. When a cell is placed in a collagen medium, the cell will reach out to grab, pull, and push itself through the matrix, leading David Mooney to hypothesize that mechanical forces can provide feedback to the cell about its environment. Mooney uses alginate hydrogels to effectively decouple key variables, such as stiffness and ligand density, to study viscoelasticity and its effects on cancer cell proliferation. Upon comparison of hydrogels with identical stiffness, cancer cells rapidly proliferate through more viscoelastic gels. When exploring the effects of viscoelasticity on tumor volume in mice, more tumor growth was observed in viscoelastic conditions compared to tumor growth in elastic conditions. Outside of cancer invasion, viscoelasticity also plays a key role in providing mechanical cues to regulate the immune system. Fascinating results from David Mooney’s talk provide insight into how immune cells respond to elastic-to-viscoelastic transitions and how mechanical checkpoints may largely impact the fate of immune cells in tumors.