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Could a Device Predict Which Cancer Cells Spread?

 

Masoud Agah's team at Virginia Tech hopes to be on its way to developing new tools to detect and treat cancer.

Detecting cancer early is one way to fight the disease. Being able to detect whether a cancer cell will metastasize could change the approach to treating the disease. Researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, VA) have developed a silicon microstructure that could provide both a better understanding of how cancer cells operate as well as whether certain cancer cells will spread. They believe that knowing how the cells behave could open the door to more information about a tumor’s diagnostic and prognostic markers. This research could lead to new tools for detecting and treating cancer. 

The work at Virginia Tech began in the Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) lab in the Bradley Department of Engineering. Led by Masoud Agah, director of the lab, the research team focused on the use of the devices in the area of breast cancer cells. Their work was also discussed in the journal Biomaterials last year.

They created a 3-D microstructure with a curved isotropic surface that enabled them to identify and compare the growth and adhesion of normal fibroblast human cells with breast cancer cells. The researchers used the microstructure to incorporate three cellular components that are found in breast tumors and determined how the cells—normal breast cells, metastatic breast cancer cells, and fibroblast cells—acted in this microenvironment.

“Any change in the cytoskeletal structure [the cell’s shape and it’s organization] can affect the interaction of cells with their surrounding microenvironments,” says Agah. “Biological events in normal cells, such as embryonic development, tissue growth and repair, and immune responses, as well as cancer cell motility and invasiveness, are dependent upon cytoskeletal reorganization.” Understanding how these cells interact could also lead to the identification of tumor markers, which in turn could help researchers develop cancer detection tools. There is still much more work to be done in this area. The Virginia Tech researchers are also observing how to use the silicon microstructure with Vorinostat, a drug used in cancer treatment.
 

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