March 13 (UPI) -- New observations confirm human cells can slingshot themselves forward, reaching speeds five times faster than previously recorded.
Scientists at the University of Michigan documented the speedy cells moving through bioengineered 3D scaffolds that mimic stromal connective tissue.
While studying the role stromal tissue plays in the spread of disease, researchers observed cells pulling on the surrounding fibrous tissue and using the tension to launch themselves forward. Scientists dubbed the movement pattern "slingshot migration."
"I was definitely shocked seeing a cell move so fast," William Wang, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering at Michigan, said in a news release. "What was even more surprising was then capturing this migration mode in multiple cell types and finding that their speed was so much faster than traditional modes of cell migration."
Most cell observation experiments involved 2D environs, a flat petri dish. The 3D fibrous scaffolding designed in the lab of Brendon Baker, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, replicate real tissue, allowing cells to move as they would in the body.
Baker and his research partners focus on stromal tissue in order to better understand how disease spreads. Stromal tissue models can also improve organ replacement therapies.
When cancer cells remain in parenchyma tissue, the functional tissue that forms the body's organs, they can be surgically removed. But when cancer tissues move into the surrounding stromal tissue, they can more easily migrate and cause the disease to spread.
"It's metastasis, or the spread of the cancer, that kills patients," Baker said. "For that to happen, the cells have to break out of the parenchyma and cross through the fibrous stroma to reach blood or lymphatic vessels or the lymphatic system."
Scientists hope to eventually harness slingshot migration to direct healthy cells for tissue repair.
Researchers detailed their observations of slingshot migration this week in the journal Nature Communications.