Changes in the composition of the extracellular matrix are a key factor in the development and progression of cancers.
The role of the ECM in cancer
A tumour consists not only of a population of cancerous cells, but also a variety of surrounding proteins, secreted factors and cells, collectively known as the tumour microenvironment (TME).
The extracellular matrix (ECM) is a major component of the TME. As well as providing essential physical scaffolding for the cellular constituents, it regulates crucial biochemical and biomechanical processes involved in tissue morphogenesis and differentiation. The ECM therefore plays a dynamic role in the development, evolution and spread of solid tumours.
Deconstructing the complexity of the tumour ECM landscape and identifying the interactions between the many cell types, soluble factors and extracellular-matrix proteins has proved to be extremely challenging. It is thus crucial to develop and rigorously study preclinical models of ECM in different cancer types to overcome this translational hurdle and move clinically relevant therapies from bench to bedside.