New lab device records cancer cells metastasizing on the microscopic level

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Current imaging technology can only provide a limited view of how cancer cells migrate to blood vessels and spread through the body. Improved imaging would give clinicians better insight into the metastasis process, which causes a majority of cancer-related mortality. The bloodstream provides a fast means of transport for cancer cells wishing to spread throughout the body.

Engineers based at Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering and its Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) developed a lab chip system that allows them to record the movement of cancer cells on the microscopic level. Early stages of metastasis were recreated on this chip, which includes an artificial blood vessel replicated via a three-dimensional collagen matrix. The material employed behaves similarly to healthy human tissue that surrounds tumors and is often the target of cancer metastases.

Investigators were able to record video of breast cancer cells moving through the matrix. Lead researcher, Andrew D. Wong, reported that his team was also able to obtain video footage of individual cancer cells pushing through the wall of an artificial blood vessel, a process that matches early metastasis.

This new artificial blood vessel and micro environment provides an ideal way to observe the minute details of metastasis, and can help shed insight into ways to stop or slow steps in the metastatic cascade.

Oncology nursing collaboration delivers improved patient experience
A lab chip system allows you to record the movement of cancer cells on the microscopic level.

Johns Hopkins engineers have invented a lab device to give cancer researchers an unprecedented microscopic look at metastasis, the complex way that tumor cells spread through the body, causing more than 90 percent of cancer-related deaths. By shedding light on precisely how tumor cells travel, the device could uncover new ways to keep cancer in check.

The inventors, from the university's Whiting School of Engineering and its Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT), published details and images from their new system recently in the journal Cancer Research.

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