CAMBRIDGE, Mass-- Cancer cells metastasize in several stages -- first by invading surrounding tissue, then by infiltrating and spreading via the circulatory system. Some circulating cells work their way out of the vascular network, eventually forming a secondary tumor.
While the initial process by which cancer cells enter the bloodstream -- called intravasation -- is well characterized, how cells escape blood vessels to permeate other tissues and organs is less clear. This process, called extravasation, is a crucial step in cancer metastasis.
Now researchers at MIT have developed a microfluidic device that mimics the flow of cancer cells through a system of blood vessels. Using high-resolution time-lapse imaging, the researchers captured the moments as a cancer cell squeezes its way through a blood vessel wall into the surrounding extracellular matrix. The process is "highly dynamic," as they write in a paper published in the journal Integrative Biology; a better understanding of it may help scientists identify therapies to prevent metastasis.
"Now that we have a model for extravasation, you can think about using it as a screen for drugs that could prevent it," says Roger Kamm, the Cecil and Ida Green Distinguished Professor of Biology and Mechanical Engineering at MIT. "We could take circulating tumor cells from a patient and subject those cells to a handful of factors or drugs. That's ultimately what we'd like to do, but in the process we're learning a lot as we go along."
Kamm's co-authors on the paper include graduate students Michelle Chen, Jordan Whisler and Jessie Jeon.
Seeding blood vessels
As tumor cells make their way through the circulatory system, some "arrest," or pause at a particular location, adhering to a blood vessel's wall -- the first stage of extravasation. Scientists have thought that this cell arrest occurs in one of two ways: A cell may send out sticky projections that
|Contact: Andrew Carleen|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology