Research projects

Understanding how tissue stiffening affects cancer development

Dr Staffan Strömblad
Project period
Jan 2023 - Dec 2025
Research Institute
Karolinska Institutet
Cancer types
General cancer research
Breast cancer
Lung cancer
Award amount

Project aim

Dr Staffan Strömblad and his team are studying how many solid tumours become ‘stiff’, when scaffolding around cells hardens. They hope to better understand the role this stiffening plays in cancer development so that they can identify potential new cancer cures.

Hope for the future

Approximately 90% of adult cancers are solid tumours that form a solid lump of abnormal cells. Breast cancer and lung cancer are two of the most common types of solid tumour and are also two of the most deadly cancers worldwide.

Dr Strömblad and his team want to better understand how solid tumours develop, particularly the role of a process called ‘tissue stiffening’. It was understood that this ‘tissue stiffening’ can sometimes help cancers grow but the team think that it might also play a role in stopping some cancers developing.  The researchers hope to use the knowledge they find to identify new ways to prevent, diagnose or treat these cancers.


Staffan Strömblad and his colleague Tania Costa

Meet the scientist

Outside of work Dr Strömblad enjoys spending time in nature, reading and listening to different types of music. His top favorite artists are Leonard Cohen and Nina Simone, and among more recent artists he likes Rosalía.

The science

The cells in our body are surrounded by a scaffolding material called the extracellular matrix (ECM), which helps give cells their shape and function. In solid tumours the ECM re-organises and becomes stiffer. This stiffening has been widely shown to support late-stage cancer growth by helping cells to divide and spread. However, very little is understood about the role of ECM stiffening in early-stage cancer development.


Dr Staffan Strömblad and his team recently made a surprising discovery. In the early stages of cancer growth, ECM stiffening may have the opposite effect and actually helps to prevent tumour development. The researchers think that stiffening does this due to the cancer cells losing their ability to grow.


Dr Strömblad and his team (including Dr Tânia Costa, shown in the photo with Dr Strömblad)  will now use state-of-the-art scientific techniques to test models of different cancer types, and different cancer stages, to test the potential growth inhibitory effects of the stiffened tissue. They hope understanding how the ECM stiffening inhibits growth in the early phase of cancer development will reveal more about how cancers develop and change the current thinking that tissue stiffening only promotes cancer growth.

Dr Staffan Strömblad Dr Staffan Strömblad
Together with my colleagues world-wide, we create new knowledge that is important for the understanding of how cancer arises, develops, and progresses. This advance of knowledge in the long run leads to improved cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The research question in this project has the potential to provide fundamental new insights into the development of cancer, in which me and my colleagues are very interested.

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