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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program

Mechanical Engineering

Degree Type

Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering (M.S.M.E.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Fusion of cancer cells has been observed in tumors for more than a century and is thought to contribute to tumor development and drug resistance. The low frequency of cell fusion events and the instability of fused cells have hindered our ability to understand the molecular mechanisms that govern cell fusion. We have developed a patterned gel system that can isolate cell fusion events and we demonstrate that several breast cancer cell lines can fuse into multinucleated giant cells in vitro, and the initiation and longevity of fused cells can be regulated solely by biophysical factors. Dynamically tuning the adhesive area of the micropatterned substrates, reducing cytoskeletal tensions pharmacologically, altering matrix stiffness, and modulating pattern curvature all supported the spontaneous fusion and stability of these multinucleated giant cells. These observations highlight that the biomechanical microenvironment of cancer cells, including the matrix rigidity and interfacial curvature, can directly modulate their fusogenicity, an unexplored mechanism through which biophysical cues regulate tumor progression.


First Advisor

Peiran Zhu