At the University of Michigan researchers have developed a special microfluidic device that can help to study how cancer spreads to different parts of the body. While microfluidic systems have been in existence for years now, they typically don’t allow cells to live inside them and be monitored for longer than a few days. The development of tumors and how they release cells that end up metastasizing are processes that take weeks, so the U of M wanted a device that can keep cancer cells viable for a similar span of time. Specifically, the researchers wanted to study why so-called “leader cells” are so much more effective at starting new tumors and why they’re also resistant to existing chemotherapies.
The new microfluidic device, reported on in the journal Scientific Reports, actually suspends a thread of cells that are gently fed into one of its channels. This gentle approach allows the cells to be disturbed in a minimal way, helping them to survive much longer than in a conventional microfluidic system. One other channel within the device provides the necessary pressure for liquids to flow through without troubling the cancer cells too much, while an additional channel essentially replicates blood capillaries.
The team introduced strings of cancer cells to the device and identified the cells that popped off from the main mass soon after the experiment started. The investigators compared these to the cells that floated away from the main tumor days later and noticed that cells that come off a tumor early are different than ones that decide to flee later. This may point to a change that tumors naturally undergo mutating from a more metastatic form to one less so. This process, if it really does exist, may somehow be sped up to reduce the chances of cancers spreading.
The hope is that using the new device the researchers will further study the so-called “tumor invasion front” and identify what makes some cells so able to spread cancer and what can be done to prevent this process.
Study in Scientific Reports: Tracking the tumor invasion front using long-term fluidic tumoroid culture…