An emerging hallmark of cancer is the progressive stiffening of the tumor over time. This physical change occurring in the tumor is now recognize as an important risk factor. Indeed, stiffer tumor is indicative of a higher probability of a patient developing metastasis. This stiffening also forces an adaptation process in all cells present within the tumor, even non-cancerous cells, and they eventually become different than at the onset of the disease. An important characteristic of tumor cells is their increased level of contractility which scale with their metastatic potential. However, it remains uncertain whether this increased contractility is a cause or a consequence of tumor progression.
In this context, our aim is to understand why these tumor cells are more contractile then their normal counterpart, and how does this feature influence how they interact with their surrounding environment to drive the metastatic process. Specifically, we are interested in a subset of proteins that show an ability to modulate the mechanical state of cells. In turn, this modulation of the mechanical state of a cell can result in the production of alternative protein variants that are not normally expressed. In fact, most proteins have two or more possible alternative variants, and these variants can even have opposing biological functions.
We believe that our work will provides novel insights in the mechanisms that regulate the mechanical state of a cell in several diseases, including cancer. The long-term goal of this research program is to enable the development of innovative therapeutics and diagnostic tools that take advantage of the abnormal mechanical properties of tumor cells.