Nanotechnology used to differentiate cancer cells from normal cells

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Dec. 24, 2007

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Metastatic cancer cells are softer than normal cells when assessed by atomic force microscopy, a nanotechnological tool, and this may become a new way to detect this condition, according to a paper published online Dec. 2 in Nature Nanotechnology.

Researchers assessed the stiffness of cells taken from the bodily fluids of patients with cancers of the lung, breast and pancreas. Diseased cells were 70% softer than healthy ones.

This is being viewed as a significant advance because conventional diagnostic methods rely on visual examination of these cells with a microscope and various staining techniques. They miss about 30% of cases.

"The metastatic cancer cells were extremely soft and easily distinguishable from the normal cells despite similarities in appearance," said Sarah Cross, the lead author and a graduate student in chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Atomic force microscopy uses a nano-sized tip to measure the elasticity of the cell, and researchers intend to study next whether assessment of cancer cells in this way can lead to more targeted chemotherapy.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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