For a long time scientists have been hoping to figure out exactly how and why cancer begins. Spotting the exact moment and location of cells turning cancerous within the body may well be impossible, so we end up studying mostly the progression and development of cancers. Breast cancer in particular has many risk factors, and it’s not clear how combinations of these factors lead to disease. Researchers at Purdue University have come up with a promising new approach, in the form of a microfluidic device, that will hopefully serve as a platform on which to see how risk factors for cancer actually start the process of cancer formation.
Their so-called “risk-on-a-chip” device has a compartment on which a small piece of breast tissue rests and a number of tiny layers that serve as a mimic of the breast ducts that tend to be where breast cancer originates in the body. These layers provide a 3D environment for the cellular culture and a way for concoction of molecules, specifically those that cause oxidative stress, to be introduced.
The researchers behind the technology plan to add sensors that measure oxidative stress and tissue stiffness of the cellular culture, allowing for continuous monitoring of the tissue. So far this is all a work in progress, but if the technology works as intended it may end up answering many fundamental questions about cancer.