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 "electro
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Johns Hopkins University