Traction forces and migration of prostate cancer cells on hydrogels – Frankie Vanterpool’s stay in Leipzig

PhD student Frankie Vanterpool just started a 3 months stay in the University of Leipzig Institute of Biochemistry thanks the the University of Glasgow’s mobility fund. “This opportunity allows me to gain experience in a different laboratory and setting in order to continue my PhD work.” says Mr. Vanterpool. “I will be working with Prof. Dr. Tilo Pompe and his group, studying traction forces and migration of cells on hydrogels.”

This work is part of Mr. Vanterpool’s aim to study components of the tumour microenvironment, looking more specifically at the interaction between DU145 prostate cancer cells and fibronectin (FN), a protein of the extracellular matrix (ECM).

Cells bind to the RGD domain on FN via integrin α5β1 on the cell wall, allowing cells to attach, migrate and proliferate. This interaction is therefore important in understanding the role FN plays in cancer cell survival, progression and metastasis.

Mr. Vanterpool is using poly(alkyl acrylates) surfaces engineered in the team to direct the organisation of FN upon adsorption. Our previous work with these materials have shown their effect on cell behaviour and has allowed us so far to study cell-matrix interactions by modulating the conformation of FN.

“The purpose of my visit is to further study cell-matrix interactions between DU145 and FN. This will be carried out by looking into 2 different systems: a flat surface or 2D system but I also plan to begin working on a 3D system using MMP degradable functionalised PEG hydrogels previously described by Garcia et al. (Adv. Mater. 2012, 24, 64-70) in Georgia Tech”, explains Mr. Vanterpool.


Traction forces exerted by cells are analysed by measuring the displacement of fluorescent polystyrene beads in an hydrogel.

“So as a first project I am going to study the force exerted by DU145 prostate cancer cells on polyacrylamide (PAA) hydrogels using traction force. This will be done by tracking the displacement of fluorescent microbeads within the gel as adherent cells exert forces on the surface of the PAA. Hydrogels will be coated with a thin layer of PEA and then FN which will form a network on the surface allowing cells to attach. Then in a second project we are going to study the migration of DU145 prostate cancer cells within fuctionalised PEG hydrogels. This will be done by seeding cells within a PEG gel functionalised with an RGD peptide sequence and cross-linked with an MMP (matrix metalloproteinase) degradable peptide. Cells will be stained and their migration within the gel will be studied. This migration is thought to be attributed to the degradation of the gel thanks to the MMP secreted by the cells.”

Viel Glück Frankie!