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Our paper on the role of tissue biomechanics in cancer development accepted at the journal Cancers

17 May 2019

Our paper entitled 'Transglutaminase-2 Mediates the Biomechanical Properties of the Colorectal Cancer Tissue Microenvironment that Contribute to Disease Progression' has been accepted in the journal Cancers. This paper was led by Dr Nick Peake and funded by our grant from Bowel & Cancer Research. Biomechanics analysis was provided by my PDRA, Dr Robin Delaine-Smith.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide, and the fourth leading cause of malignancy-related mortality. This highlights the need to understand the processes driving this disease in order to develop new treatments and improve patient outcomes. A potential therapeutic target is the increased stiffness of the tumour microenvironment, which is linked to aggressive cancer cell behaviour by enhancing biomechanical signalling. In this study, we used an siRNA-based approach to investigate the contribution of the protein cross-linking enzyme transglutaminase-2 (TG2) to matrix remodelling and biomechanical properties of the tumour microenvironment. TG2 inhibited cancer cell growth in organotypic 3D fibroblast/colon cancer co-culture models, and biomechanical analysis demonstrated that colorectal cancer cells induced fibroblast-mediated stiffness which was inhibited by silencing TG2. These biomechanical changes were associated with observed alterations to collagen fibre structure, notably fibre thickness. Our in vitro findings of collagen composition changes were also seen with imaging biopsied tissues from patients with colorectal cancer, with TG2 correlating positively with thicker collagen fibres, and associating with poor outcome as determined by disease recurrence post-surgery and overall survival. In conclusion, this study demonstrates a role for TG2 in the stromal response to invading tumour, leading to tissue stiffening and poor outcome in patients.

Updated by: Martin Knight