The study said that a systematic comparison of metastatic breast-cancer cells to healthy breast cells revealed dramatic differences between two cell lines in their mechanics, migration, oxygen response, protein production and their ability to stick to surfaces.
The researchers also discovered new insights how cells make transition from nonmalignant to metastatic, a process not very well understood.
The study was conducted by a network of 12 federally funded Physical Sciences-Oncology Centers (PS-OC).
"By bringing together different types of experimental expertise to systematically compare metastatic and nonmetastatic cells, we have advanced our knowledge of how metastasis occurs," Robert Austin, professor of physics and leader of the Princeton PS-OC, along with senior co-investigator Thea Tlsty of the University of California-San Francisco, said.
Austin said that researchers with the Princeton PS-OC determined that metastatic cells, in spite of moving more slowly than nonmalignant cells, move farther and in a straighter line.
The researchers studied cells' behavior in tiny cell-sized chambers and channels etched out of silicon and designed to mimic the natural environment of the body's interior.
The Princeton PS-OC also includes collaborators at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the University of California-Santa Cruz.
For the nationwide project, nearly 100 investigators from 20 institutions and laboratories conducted their experiments using the same two cell lines, reagents and protocols to assure that results could be compared. The experimental methods ranged from physical measurements of how the cells push on surrounding cells to measurements of gene and protein expression.
The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.