Their understanding of the behavior of the cells within the microstructures is what leads them to believe their research could "provide important diagnostic and prognostic markers unique to the tumor, which could ultimately be used to develop new tools for the detection and treatment of cancer."
Following their initial findings, Strobl, Nikkhah and Agah identified a unique application of the experimental anti-cancer drug SAHA in their studies with the silicon microstructure. SAHA, also known as Vorinostat, is the first drug of its type to receive Food and Drug Administration approval for clinical use in cancer treatment.
Unlike many of the conventional cytotoxic chemotherapy agents that target DNA to kill cancer cells, SAHA's unique properties include its ability to inhibit a family of enzymes referred to medically as "histone deacetylases." These enzymes are known to "increase levels of acetylation of many proteins, including beta-actin, alpha-, and beta-tubulin, and additional actin binding proteins comprising the cytoskeleton.
"The role of drugs such as SAHA in the control of cancer cell metastasis is only beginning to be understood," explained Strobl, "however our work shows that SAHA elicits a very characteristic cytoskeletal alteration specifically in metastatic breast cells that provides a handle for predicting which breast cells in a cell mixture might have the ability to metastasize."
Cell motility is "one hallmark of metastatic cancer cells involving the coordinated actions of actin and other cytoskeleton proteins," Agah explained. When metastatic disease develops, it is usually fatal.
They found SAHA caused cancer cells to stretch and attach to the microstructures through actin-rich cell extensions. By contrast, control cells conformed to the microstructures. This result allow
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