A frequency-based hypothesis for mechanically targeting and selectively attacking cancer cells

M. Fraldi, A. Cugno, L. Deseri, K. Dayal, N. M. Pugno

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Experimental studies recently performed on single cancer and healthy cells have demonstrated that the former are about 70% softer than the latter, regardless of the cell lines and the measurement technique used for determining the mechanical properties. At least in principle, the difference in cell stiffness might thus be exploited to create mechanical-based targeting strategies for discriminating neoplastic transformations within human cell populations and for designing innovative complementary tools to cell-specific molecular tumour markers, leading to possible applications in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer diseases. With the aim of characterizing and gaining insight into the overall frequency response of single-cell systems to mechanical stimuli (typically low-intensity therapeutic ultrasound), a generalized viscoelastic paradigm, combining classical and spring-pot-based models, is introduced for modelling this problem by neglecting the cascade of mechanobiological events involving the cell nucleus, cytoskeleton, elastic membrane and cytosol. Theoretical results show that differences in stiffness, experimentally observed ex vivo and in vitro, allow healthy and cancer cells to be discriminated, by highlighting frequencies (from tens to hundreds of kilohertz) associated with resonance-like phenomena-prevailing on thermal fluctuations-that could be helpful in targeting and selectively attacking tumour cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20150656
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number111
StatePublished - Oct 6 2015


  • Cancer
  • Cell mechanics
  • Ultrasound
  • Viscoelasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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