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J Cancer. 2019 Jul 25;10(19):4481-4487. doi: 10.7150/jca.32985. eCollection 2019.

Regional biomechanical imaging of liver cancer cells.

Author information

State Key Laboratory of Radiation Medicine and Protection, School of Radiation Medicine and Protection, Collaborative Innovation Center of Radiological Medicine of Jiangsu Higher Education Institutions, Soochow University, Suzhou 215123, China.
Center for Molecular Imaging and Nuclear Medicine, School of Radiological and Interdisciplinary Sciences (RAD-X), Soochow University, Collaborative Innovation Center of Radiation Medicine of Jiangsu Higher Education Institutions, Suzhou 215123, China.
School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
Institute for Medical Imaging Technology, School of Biomedical Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai 200240, China.
Guangdong Provincial Engineering Research Center of Molecular Imaging, the Fifth Affiliated Hospital, Sun Yat-sen University, Zhuhai 519000, China.
Willerson Center for Cardiovascular Modeling and Simulation, Institute for Computational Engineering & Sciences, the University of Texas at Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Liver cancer is one of the leading cancers, especially in developing countries. Understanding the biomechanical properties of the liver cancer cells can not only help to elucidate the mechanisms behind the cancer progression, but also provide important information for diagnosis and treatment. At the cellular level, we used well-established atomic force microscopy (AFM) techniques to characterize the heterogeneity of mechanical properties of two different types of human liver cancer cells and a normal liver cell line. Stiffness maps with a resolution of 128x128 were acquired for each cell. The distributions of the indentation moduli of the cells showed significant differences between cancerous cells and healthy controls. Significantly, the variability was even greater amongst different types of cancerous cells. Fitting of the histogram of the effective moduli using a normal distribution function showed the Bel7402 cells were stiffer than the normal cells while HepG2 cells were softer. Morphological analysis of the cell structures also showed a higher cytoskeleton content among the cancerous cells. Results provided a foundation for applying knowledge of cell stiffness heterogeneity to search for tissue-level, early-stage indicators of liver cancer.


AFM; biomechanics; cell stiffness; indentation; liver cancer

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interest exists.

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