Fall 2014

Pressure Point

How cancer spreads is focus of a summer’s work

By Gail Bambrick

What causes cancer to metastasize remains a mystery.

This past summer, Jason Berglund, D17, investigated how pressure changes inside cancer cells may provide clues about how and why the disease spreads. He was one of 11 dental students selected to spend eight weeks at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) as a recipient of its Summer Dental Student Award.

“It is important to give the same emphasis to research in dental medicine as is now given to medical research,” says Berglund, who hopes to develop ways to translate bench science “right to the patient” during his career.

At the NIDCR laboratory in Bethesda, Maryland, Berglund worked with postdoctoral fellow Ryan Petrie in the Laboratory of Cell and Developmental Biology, led by Kenneth Yamada,.

“While many people are looking at how cells move through the body based on various biochemical pathways, we [looked] at how changes in the pressure within a cell actually influence its physical behavior,” Berglund says.

In the lab, he introduced tropomyosin, a protein involved in muscle contractions, into healthy human cells. “I have been able to alter a cell’s intracellular pressure by increasing the presence of tropomyosin, because we think it causes a contraction in the cytoskeleton, the network of proteins that give each cell its shape,” Berglund says.

The contractions and resulting changes in intracellular pressure may affect how cells move and grow, he says—findings that could lead to an understanding of how cancer cells spread throughout the body.

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