Tumour spheroid, SK-HEP-1

The physics of cancer

A novel research project has shed new light on how to manage and monitor cancer treatment by measuring the physical forces active in all cancers.

Named ‘FORCE, Imaging the Force of Cancer’, the Horizon 2020 project was funded by the European Research Commission and led by King’s College London, with partners around the world, including the University of New South Wales.

Most cancer deaths are caused by the cancer spreading from its primary source throughout the body – a process known as metastasis.

Despite that, there has been surprisingly little work done on indicators for the potential for cancers to spread. Cells use ‘traction forces’ to perform various tasks, including maintaining cell shape and moving within tissues.

Scientists believe those forces and so-called interstitial fluid pressure (IFP) at the edges of a tumour could be useful indicators that a cancers is likely to spread, but we lack a non-invasive way to measure them.

The FORCE project was designed to give better insights into cancer forces but also examine the efficacy of actively manipulating the cancer environment.

“Interstitial Fluid Pressure (IFP) is the Holy Grail of oncology,” says Professor Ralph Sinkus, Department of Biomedical Engineering. “Using imaging, we will for the first time be able to measure these forces, opening new avenues for cancer therapy.”

The study led to clinical trials with patients to test the benefit of taking into account these forces. If they are successful, the findings could have an impact on the selection of the drug most likely to work given a certain value of IFP and gauging the success or failure of therapy during chemo.