Here's the moment a skin cancer cell grabs a tiny gel ball packed with fluorescent nanoparticles, squeezing it tightly with a membrane ‘hand’. This microscopic game of catch has been set up to measure the physical forces generated by cells growing in plastic dishes in the lab as they jostle for space against each other. It’s a major technical challenge: single cells don’t generate forces and will quickly die on their own, but cells grown together in a dish are so tightly packed that it’s hard to measure their might. By throwing these bouncy fluorescent blobs at single cells, researchers can measure how tightly a cell squeezes by seeing how hard it squishes the ball, based on the movement of the fluorescent particles inside. Knowing more about the physical properties of individual cancer cells provides useful insights as to how they might behave as a tumour grows and spreads.
Written by Kat Arney
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.