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Mechanical journey of cancer cells focus of new study

Amit Pathak, assistant professor in mechanical engineering & materials science, has been awarded a three-year, $180,000 New Investigator grant from the Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Foundation.

Amit Pathak

Pathak was one of eight recipients from 165 applicants. He is the first nominee and recipient from the School of Engineering & Applied Science in the history of this award.

With the funding, Pathak will study how the mechanical journey of cancer cells is affected by the heterogeneous tissue environments around them. He will deconstruct multi-dimensional aspects of tumor invasion by adopting an innovative combination of engineering, biomaterials and cancer cell biology-based approaches.

Cancer is deadly because of the ability of malignant cells to leave the primary tumor site, invade healthy tissue, and metastasize to distant sites. Tumor invasion is an intricate multi-step process in which physical interactions between cancer cells and their microenvironments crucially dictate cellular behavior. While both the invasion steps — dissemination from a primary tumor and invasion into the surrounding matrix — have been studied separately, their dependence on biomechanical cues present in the tumor microenvironment are not yet completely understood. Pathak says these gaps in the understanding of tumor invasion remain due to a lack of engineering-based approaches that mimic tissue-like conditions and allow “time and space” deconstruction of this multistep program.

The Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Foundation supports early stage investigators engaged in biomedical research that has the potential to significantly advance the understanding, diagnosis or treatment of disease.


The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 91 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, 750 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.