Navigation Links
Lab-on-a-chip homes in on how cancer cells break free

Johns Hopkins engineers have invented a method that could be used to help figure out how cancer cells break free from neighboring tissue, an "escape" that can spread the disease to other parts of the body. The new lab-on-a-chip, described in the March issue of the journal Nature Methods, could lead to better cancer therapies.

"Studying cell detachment at the subcellular level is critical to understanding the way cancer cells metastasize," says principal investigator Peter Searson, Reynolds Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. "Development of scientific methods to study cell detachment may guide us to prevent, limit or slow down the deadly spreading of cancer cells."

His team's research focuses on a missing puzzle piece in the common but unfortunate events that can occur in cancer patients. For example, cancer that starts in the breast sometimes spreads to the lungs.

That's because tumor cells detach and travel through the bloodstream to settle in other tissues. Scientists have learned much about how cancer cells attach to these surfaces, but they know little about how these insidious cells detach because no one had created a simple way to study the process.

Searson and two other scientists from Johns Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering have solved this problem with a lab-on-a-chip device that can help researchers study cell detachment. With this device, they hope to discover exactly how cancer cells spread.

The lab-on-a-chip device consists of an array of gold lines on a glass slide. Molecules promoting the formation of cell attachments are tethered to the gold lines like balloons tied to string. A cell is placed on the chip, atop these molecules. The cell spreads across several of the gold lines, forming attachments to the surface of the chip with help from the molecules.

Then, the tethered molecules are released from one of the lines by a chemical reaction, specifically by "electrochemical reduction," Searson explains. Where these molecules are detached, that portion of the cell loses its grip on the surface of the chip. This segment of the cell pauses for a moment and then contracts forcefully toward its other end, which is still attached to the chip. The researchers were able to film this "tail snap" under a microscope.

"It's very dramatic," says Denis Wirtz, a Johns Hopkins professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and co-author of the Nature Methods paper. "The cell stretches way, way out across the chip and then, on command, the tail snaps toward the body of the cell."

Cells survive this programmed-release process and can be tested again and again, the researchers said.

Bridget Wildt, a materials science and engineering doctoral student in Searson's lab, used the device to perform and record movies of the live-cell experiments. Wildt tested cells from the connective tissue of mice during these experiments, but the team plans to try other types of cells in the future.

"In the movies, you can see that the cell doesn't move immediately after the chemical reaction is triggered. We refer to this phenomenon as the induction time of the cell," Wildt says. "After this induction time, the cell then snaps back and contracts. We analyze the rate of the cell's contraction and then compare this information to separate cells released under different conditions using chemicals called inhibitors. From these results we are beginning to understand the processes that regulate cell detachment at the molecular level."

The researchers have speculated that the induction time for cancer cells, as compared to noncancerous cells, would be shorter because cancer cells are more pliable. In the near future, Wildt says, they plan to test this hypothesis in experiments with cancer cells. If this assumption proves correct, it may give them a tool to differentiate between cancerous and noncancerous cells.


Contact: Mary Spiro
Johns Hopkins University

Related biology news :

1. New holographic method could be used for lab-on-a-chip technologies
2. Fireproofing homes dramatically reduces forest fire size, according to new study
3. Increased allergen levels in homes linked to asthma
4. Newly described contaminant sources in Katrina-flooded homes pose health risks
5. Green tea boosts production of detox enzymes, rendering cancerous chemicals harmless
6. A study by the MUHC and McGill University opens a new door to understanding cancer
7. ESF EURYI award winner aims to stop cancer cells reading their own DNA
8. Protein chatter linked to cancer activation
9. Newly created cancer stem cells could aid breast cancer research
10. Western diet linked to increased risk of colon cancer recurrence
11. Obesity and lack of exercise could enhance the risk of pancreatic cancer
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Lab-on-a-chip homes in on how cancer cells break free
(Date:10/27/2015)... 27, 2015 In the present market scenario, ... for various industry verticals such as banking, healthcare, defense, ... growing demand for secure & simplified access control and ... as hacking of bank accounts, misuse of users, , ... as PC,s, laptops, and smartphones are expected to provide ...
(Date:10/27/2015)... SAN JOSE, Calif. , Oct. 27, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... human interface solutions, today announced that Google has adopted ... family of touch controller solutions to power its newest ... Nexus 6P by Huawei. --> ... ecosystem partners like Google to provide strategic collaboration in ...
(Date:10/26/2015)... and LAS VEGAS , Oct. 26, ... , an innovator in modern authentication and a founding ... the launch of its latest version of the Nok ... organizations to use standards-based authentication that supports existing and ... Authentication Suite is ideal for organizations deploying customer-facing applications ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... Nov. 24, 2015  Asia-Pacific (APAC) holds the ... (CRO) market. The trend of outsourcing to low-cost ... but higher volume share for the region in ... however, margins in the CRO industry will improve. ... ( ), finds that the market ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , Nov. 24, 2015 Halozyme Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ: ... in New York on Wednesday, December 2 ... Torley , president and CEO, will provide a corporate overview. ... York at 1:00 p.m. ET/10:00 a.m. PT . ... relations, will provide a corporate overview. --> th ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... ... the year and one of the premier annual events for pharmaceutical manufacturing: 2015 ... 8–11 November 2015, where ISPE hosted the largest number of attendees in more ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... 24, 2015 --> ... report "Oligonucleotide Synthesis Market by Product & Services (Primer, ... Diagnostic, DNA, RNAi), End-User (Research, Pharmaceutical & Biotech, Diagnostic ... the market is expected to reach USD 1,918.6 Million ... a CAGR of 10.1% during the forecast period. ...
Breaking Biology Technology: