Dr. Katira was invited as a featured speaker in the “Leaders in the Field” research seminar series at the University of California, Los Angeles Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. His seminar was on the role of mechanics in tumor growth and metastasis. In this seminar he described his research in the area of cell mechanics and how mechanical forces generated by interacting cells influence tissue dynamics and drive malignant tumor growth. He pointed out an interesting paradox that presents itself while trying to understand tumor growth within healthy tissue environments – Cancerous cells that form the bulk of the tumor are softer than normal cells surrounding them. In contrast, the microenvironment around these cells is stiffer. Thus tumor growth is essentially a soft mass pushing against a stiff environment and should be self-limiting. However, tumors with softer cells and stiffer environments have been clinically shown to be more aggressive and faster growing. Dr. Katira’s research provides an explanation for this paradox by focusing on the mechanical forces experienced by each individual cell inside the tumor. Using mathematical models and computer simulations, Dr. Katira and his students have shown that the softer cells experience an increased intracellular tension which activates their mechanotransduction signaling pathways. This then drives the rapid proliferation of these cells even within a stiff environment and now the growing tumor cell population is able to push back against the stiffer tumor microenvironment. This research provides a unique mechanistic perspective on tumor growth and cancer progression and suggests new ways to predict, prevent and treat cancers.
Dr. Katira’s research is funded in part by the NIH sponsored SDSU/UCSD Cancer Center on Cancer Disparities Research (U54CA132384, U54CA132379)