Luring Cancer With An Early Warning System

Posted on 24 January 2016

Scientists have developed a sponge-like implant, that lures and traps cancer cells – quickly warning of any relapse

Cancer doesn’t spread randomly; it has preferred sites to conquer and expand into. Understanding exactly what drives this attraction process is now allowing us to trick exploratory cancer cells into a trap. 

“It acts as a canary in the coal mine. And by attracting cancer cells, it steers those cells away from vital organs”

In order to spread and colonise, cancer often recruits the immune system. A gathering of specific immune cells in particular tissue draws wandering cancer scouts in, and enables a hostile takeover of the tissue. The researchers built on this knowledge, creating a spongy implant designed to be a bright beacon – magnetising and trapping cancer. The implant is constructed of an FDA approved material widely used today that dissolves gradually over time.

An illustration of the device Credit: U. Michigan

An illustration of the device Credit: U. Michigan

Testing this new technology, the team found that in mice implanted with the device, it was able to slow spread into the lungs by 88%. It also acted like an early warning system for any metastasis. While it’s not ready for humans just yet, the initial results are interesting and it could provide a feasible alarm system that both slows progression, and warns when a cancer has returned. 

“Breast cancer is a disease that can recur over a long period in a patient’s life, and a recurrence is often very difficult to detect until the cancer becomes established in another organ. Something like this could be monitored for years and we could use it as an early indicator of recurrence”

With more research into other signals that lure cancer in, implants like this could be an effective future measure in at risk patients.

Read more at Futurity

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