Pokki Lab investigates the contribution of biomechanics to the progression of solid-tumor-forming cancers, particularly breast cancer’s most common and aggressive types. The recent research has shown that the cancer progression is regulated by biomechanical interactions between tumor cells and extracellular matrix, and these interactions take place in a 3D confinement at the micrometer-length scale, experienced by the cells. To date, 3D cell cultures are a standard in cancer research. Yet, the technology to quantify microscale biomechanical interactions in the cultures has been mainly missing so far. Therefore, we develop microscopy-integrable systems that map how microscale biomechanical properties (micromechanics) vary inside 3D cell cultures.

Currently, we use the systems to study how the interplay between micromechanics and cancer stage contributes to the progression of breast cancer. We quantify the dynamic behaviors of the tumor cells that are critical for the cancer progression, including, how the cells migrate out of the primary tumor, and how they remodel the structural and mechanical properties of their surroundings. 

It is critical to consider not only the properties of the cells but also the surrounding tissue that impacts cells. The tumor tissue, composed of extracellular matrix and cells, shows a high structural and mechanical heterogeneity. Further, the tissue has not only a spatially varying micromechanical landscape, but each individual location has typically complex micromechanics. The locations are viscoelastic (time-dependent micromechanics), mechanically plastic (ability of material to deform permanently), and non-linearly elastic (material stiffening or softening due to deformation). Therefore, we consider these micromechanical properties in our work.

We investigate the priority of micromechanics among simultaneous factors progressing breast cancer, with the goal of maximizing the technological benefit to clinical work.

We are physically located Health Technology House, and we belong to the Department of Electrical Engineering and Automation (EEA) in the School of Electrical Engineering (ELEC) at Aalto University.


2024 Mar: Our article on ‘Measuring mechanical cues for modeling stromal matrix in 3D cell culture‘, by Linda, Ossi, Arttu, and Juho, has been accepted for publication in Soft Matter by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). Congratulations! [link]

2023 Dec: We welcome Ali to join our group as a postdoctoral scholar!

2023 Dec: The Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation has awarded our laboratory a project grant related to chemotherapy and biomechanics: ‘Toward enhanced drug efficacy in breast cancer by micromechanical analysis’ [link]. We gratefully acknowledge the foundation’s contribution.

2023 Nov: Our article on ‘Quantifying the influence of X-ray irradiation on cell-size-scale viscoelasticity of collagen type 1‘, by Väinö, Arttu, Vesa, Linda and Juho, has been accepted for publication in Journal of Biomechanical Engineering by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) [link]. Congratulations!

2023 Sep: Our co-authored article ‘Fibrin stiffness regulates phenotypic plasticity of metastatic breast cancer cells‘ has been accepted for publication in Advanced Healthcare Materials by Wiley [link]. Congratulations Arttu and Ossi in this group, as well as collaborators, especially Maria and Pauliina!

2023 Jun: Juho defended his Starting Grant application to European Research Council (ERC) in an interview (Step 2).

2023 Apr: We thank Spark Finland for inviting us to join Stanford Drug Discovery Symposium. Juho represented our MechScopy project in the symposium and the related events in University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Catalyst, Stanford Biodesign, and Stanford Health Innovation Lab.

2023 Feb: Our article on ‘Magnetic microrheometry of tumor-relevant stiffness levels and probabilistic quantification of viscoelasticity differences inside 3D cell culture matrices‘, by Arttu, Ossi, Linda, Maria and Juho, has been accepted for publication in PLOS One [link]. Congratulations!

2023 Feb: Väinö starts as a PhD candidate and has obtained a two-year fellowship from the Finnish Cultural Foundation. Congratulations!

2022 Oct-Nov: Our Immunate project is represented in Cancer Partnering Day, Nordic Deeptech Business Summit, and Slush.

2022 Oct: Leon Petric has joined our team to carry out his master thesis about breast cancer spheroids.

2022 Aug: Our article on ‘Nanoscale tracking combined with cell-scale microrheology reveals stepwise increases in force generated by cancer cell protrusions’ is published in Nano Letters by American Chemical Society [link], and featured in Aalto press releases in English and in Finnish, as well as in AAAS EurekAlert, Mediuutiset, and Yle.

2022 May: Congratulations to Arttu for co-publishing an article as the second author in our collaboration with Manuguri’s and Kuzyk’s groups. The article on ‘DNA engineered hydrogels with light-adaptive plasmonic responses’ is published in Advanced Functional Materials by Wiley [link], and featured in an Aalto press release.

2022 Mar: We have been awarded Aalto Internal Seed Funding. Thank you for the support!

2022 Jan: The Immunate project is now a full member of Spark Finland. We are excited to work together!

2021 Dec: Congratulations to Mari for the postdoctoral fellowship award by Paulo Foundation about determination of how microenvironmental modification by cancer-associated fibroblasts drive the initiation and progression of breast cancer! [link]

2021 Dec: Congratulations to the Immunate team for being among the four finalists in the Health Pitching Competition of Y Science that is an official side event of Slush 2021! [link]

2021 Nov: Our co-authored article on ‘Compressive stress-mediated p38 activation required for ERα+ phenotype in breast cancer’ has been published in Nature Communications by Springer Nature [link].

2021 Oct: Our group formally opens an experimental laboratory for 3D cell cultures that is a part of the Aalto department EEA and the Aalto school ELEC infrastructures for research and teaching.

2021 Sep: Sven represents the Immunate project in Nordic Innovation Fair in Copenhagen.

2021 Jul-Sep: Ossi and Ujjwal are now formally PhD candidates in the group. Congratulations!

2021 Jun: The Immunate project is now a prospect member of Spark Finland. The Immunate members are excited to develop themselves and give their contribution to the Spark Finland and Spark Global network!

2021 Apr: Juho’s article on ‘Magnetic probe-based microrheology reveals local softening and stiffening of 3D collagen matrices by fibroblasts’ has been published in Biomedical Microdevices by Springer Nature [link]

2021 Jan-Feb: The group welcomes Mari and Sven! Congratulations to Linda and Arttu for being now formally PhD candidates!

2021 Jan: We begin the collaborative Business Finland R2B project ‘Immunate’, focusing on personalized cancer immunotherapy.

2020 Oct: Juho provides a lecture to Lukema network that is an open community designed for all high school teachers and principals, who are focused on developing the teaching of mathematics and sciences in Finland [in Finnish: link]

2020 Sep: We won the Aalto Research Impact Award due to our studies of airborne transmission mode of COVID-19, in the collaborative COVID-19 consortium, led by V. Vuorinen [link]

2020 Sep: Our blog about the potential applications of cancer micromechanics for personalised medicine is online [in Finnish: link]

2020 Jun: Our co-authored article in the Aalto COVID-19 consortium on ‘Modelling aerosol transport and virus exposure with numerical simulations in relation to SARS-CoV-2 transmission by inhalation indoors’ has been published in Safety Science by Elsevier [link]

2020 Jun: Juho provides an interdisciplinary Zoom seminar, entitled ‘Measuring cell-affecting mechanical cues for quantifying progression of breast cancer’ at Karolinska Institute in the Dept. of of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology

2020 May: Juho’s co-authored article on ‘Tuning corneal epithelial cell adhesive strength with varying crosslinker content in silicone hydrogel materials’ has been published in Translational Vision Science & Technology by Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, ARVO [link]

2020 Mar: Juho has been awarded a fellow grant by the Instrumentarium Science Foundation [link; in Finnish: link]