London, March 19 (ANI): Johns Hopkins engineers say that they have developed a new lab-on-a-chip that can lead to better cancer therapies.
The researchers say that their invention may help figure out how cancer cells break free from neighbouring tissue, an "escape" that can spread the disease to other parts of the body.
"Studying cell detachment at the subcellular level is critical to understanding the way cancer cells metastasize. Development of scientific methods to study cell detachment may guide us to prevent, limit or slow down the deadly spreading of cancer cells," Nature magazine quoted principal investigator Peter Searson, Reynolds Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, as saying.
He points out that cancer that starts in the breast, for example, sometimes spreads to the lungs because tumour cells detach and travel through the bloodstream to settle in other tissues.
He further says that scientists have learnt much about how cancer cells attach to these surfaces, but very little is known as to how such insidious cells detach because no one had created a simple way to study the process.
Searson hopes that the new lab-on-a-chip may solve this problem by helping scientists discover exactly how cancer cells spread.
Describing the new device, he has revealed that it boasts an array of gold lines on a glass slide.
He says that 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 the molecules.
According to him, the cell spreads across several of the gold lines, forming attachments to the surface of the chip with help from the molecules.
Searson says that the tethered molecules are released from one of the lines by a chemical reaction, specifically by "electrochemical reduction".
Where the molecules are detached, according to the researcher, that portion of the cell loses its grip on the surface of the chip.
The researchers have filmed a "tail snap" under a microscope showing this segment of the cell pausing for a moment, and then contracting forcefully toward its other end, still attached to the chip.
"It's very dramatic. The cell stretches way, way out across the chip and then, on command, the tail snaps toward the body of the cell," says Denis Wirtz, a Johns Hopkins professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and co-author of the paper.
The researchers say that cells survive this programmed-release process, and can be tested again and again.
The team say that if they have their way, their experiments will one day give them a tool to differentiate between cancerous and non-cancerous cells.
A research article describing the invention has been published in the journal Nature Methods. (ANI)