Cancer researchers have been studying angiogenesis — the growth of new blood vessels — since the early 1970s, when Judah Folkman first theorized that tumors could be destroyed by cutting off their blood supply. For most of that time, scientists have focused on the biochemical signals that promote angiogenesis, in hopes of finding drugs that can starve tumors by blocking their ability to release the proteins that promote vessel growth. More recently, a few scientists have taken a new approach: studying how contractions in nearby cells can stimulate angiogenesis.
In a paper published in April in the Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter, Van Vliet, Herman and MIT students Sunyoung Lee (former Hugh Hampton Young fellow), Adam Zeiger and John Maloney and Tufts research associate Maciej Kotecki reported measuring and imaging the force of pericyte contractions using an atomic force microscope — the first time that had ever been done. Atomic force microscopy generates very high-resolution images (about 5-nanometer resolution) by “feeling” the surface of a sample with a tiny probe tip.
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