The role of mechanics in EMT and cancer metastasis

The World Health Organization reports that cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, responsible for 1 in every 6 deaths. This ratio doubles in Canada, with the Canadian Cancer Society estimating that nearly 1 in 2 Canadians will develop cancer, and about 1 out of 4 will die from it.

Recent anticancer therapies target the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a process that converts tightly bound cells into loosely associated motile cells. In cancers, this results in progression with metastasis and improved resistance to treatments.

Evidence shows the role of mechanics in driving EMT but how the biochemistry and the mechanics coregulate this process remains largely unknown.

We propose to investigate this question in the case study of stem cell cultures, which undergo EMT in a controlled environment. We will develop a mathematical model to link mechanical stresses and cytoskeletal energetics, and we will validate it experimentally in collaboration with the Zandstra Lab.

This proposal will enhance BC’s and Canada’s leadership in healthcare-oriented research, as understanding EMT is essential not only for cancer but also for many other biological processes, such as organogenesis and tissue regeneration.