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UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

Soichiro Yamada: Engineering + Cancer = New Knowledge

Photo of Soichiro Yamada © UC Regents

Soichiro Yamada likes to think of cancer-cell behavior in terms of a favorite piece of playground equipment: the jungle gym.

Like children climbing in, out, over and around the metal structure, cancer cells migrate through surrounding tissue, allowing disease to spread into different parts of the human body.

Using the jungle-gym analogy, the 36-year-old Yamada explains that cells have to grab onto other cells within the matrix of surrounding cells, and pull themselves through and into other tissue.

“My proposal is to analyze how these invasive cancer cells migrate through the surrounding environment, which includes collagen and neighboring normal cells and other tumor cells,” he said. “We are interested in how much forces are generated by single cancer cells to accomplish that.” 

Yamada’s emphasis on the mechanics of cell migration differs from other approaches to understanding cancer-cell behavior, including gene expression and cell morphology.

“It’s a novel concept,” he said. “It’s important, because during metastasis, cells have to generate forces in order to invade. If I know which molecules are responsible for moving these cells, I could potentially inhibit that, and it could have therapeutic potential.”

Yamada’s work also is an example of the kind of interdisciplinary research taking place at UC Davis, where engineers like himself delve deeply into the mechanics of cancer. Yamada and his graduate student, Thuc Nghi Nguyen, designed a miniature biosensor that can measure forces exerted by a single cancer cell to aid in their project.

For more information on Yamada’s research, visit his laboratory Web site at