New device isolates most aggressive cancer cells

May 23, 2014 by Anne Ju, Cornell University
New device isolates most aggressive cancer cells
Overlay image of the device showing the three channels that sort the cancer cells. Credit: Reinhart-King lab

(Medical Xpress)—Not all cancer cells are created equal – some stay put in the primary tumor, while others move and invade elsewhere. A major goal for cancer research is predicting which cells will metastasize, and why.

A Cornell team is taking a new approach to screening for these dangerous cells, using a microfluidic device they invented that isolates only the most aggressive, .

"The approach we've taken is a reverse approach from what is conventionally done," said Cynthia Reinhart-King, associate professor of biomedical engineering and senior author of the recently published Technology Journal paper describing the research. "Instead of looking at what molecules are being expressed by the tumor, we're looking for the phenotype – that is, the behavior – of individual cells first. Then we can determine what molecules are causing that behavior."

Typically, searching for biomarkers of metastasis has focused on screening for certain molecules or genes expressed by large numbers of migrating . The problem is that it's easy to miss subtle differences in the tiny subpopulations of cells that are the most aggressive.

Taking, for example, 100 tumors and seeking out molecular biomarkers for metastasis, one particular molecule might be identified as being "upregulated" in those tumors, Reinhart-King said. But it's not the whole tumor expressing that particular molecule – some cells express the biomarker and some do not.

New device isolates most aggressive cancer cells
Design of the microfluidic device that sorts for aggressive cancer cells. Credit: Reinhart-King lab

The researchers decided to first sort cells with the most aggressive behavior, and analyze only them for molecular changes. Their innovation is a that contains side channels to wash out the less aggressive cells, while herding the more aggressive ones into a separate channel.

For their proof-of-concept, the researchers screened for cells with migratory responses to Epidermal Growth Factor, for which the receptor is known to be present in most human cancers and is tightly linked to poor prognosis.

"The thing we're most excited about, in addition to the physical device, is the conceptual framework we're using by trying to shift gears and screen for that are causing the worst parts of the disease," Reinhart-King said. The device could also be used in other applications of tissue engineering, inflammation and wound healing.

King collaborated with co-author Michael King; the husband-and-wife team are project leaders in the Cornell Center on the Microenvironment and Metastasis, a National Cancer Institute Physical Sciences-Oncology Center, which supported the work. Authorship includes former postdoctoral associate Saumendra Bajpai and graduate student Michael Mitchell.

Explore further: Ovarian cancer cells are more aggressive on soft tissues

Related Stories

Ovarian cancer cells are more aggressive on soft tissues

May 8, 2014
When ovarian cancer spreads from the ovaries it almost always does so to a layer of fatty tissue that lines the gut. A new study has found that ovarian cancer cells are more aggressive on these soft tissues due to the mechanical ...

Molecule linked to aggressive pancreatic cancer offers potential clinical advances

May 21, 2014
Mayo Clinic researchers have discovered an enzyme they say is tightly linked to how aggressive pancreatic cancer will be in a patient.

Piggy-backing proteins ride white blood cells to wipe out metastasizing cancer

January 6, 2014
Cornell biomedical engineers have discovered a new way to destroy metastasizing cancer cells traveling through the bloodstream – lethal invaders that are linked to almost all cancer deaths – by hitching cancer-killing ...

Bioengineers discover the natural switch that controls spread of breast cancer cells

January 23, 2013
With a desire to inhibit metastasis, Cornell biomedical engineers have found the natural switch between the body's inflammatory response and how malignant breast cancer cells use the bloodstream to spread.

Dormant prostate cancer cells may be reawakened by factors produced in inflammatory cells

January 29, 2014
Researchers in the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute discovered in pre-clinical models that dormant prostate cancer cells found in bone tissue can be reawakened, causing metastasis to other parts of ...

Decoded: Molecular messages that tell prostate and breast cancers to spread

April 30, 2013
Cancer cells are wily, well-traveled adversaries, constantly side-stepping treatments to stop their spread. But for the first time, scientists at the University of Michigan have decoded the molecular chatter that ramps certain ...

Recommended for you

T-cells engineered to outsmart tumors induce clinical responses in relapsed Hodgkin lymphoma

January 16, 2018
WASHINGTON-(Jan. 16, 2018)-Tumors have come up with ingenious strategies that enable them to evade detection and destruction by the immune system. So, a research team that includes Children's National Health System clinician-researchers ...

Researchers identify new treatment target for melanoma

January 16, 2018
Researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have identified a new therapeutic target for the treatment of melanoma. For decades, research has associated female sex and a history of previous ...

More evidence of link between severe gum disease and cancer risk

January 16, 2018
Data collected during a long-term health study provides additional evidence for a link between increased risk of cancer in individuals with advanced gum disease, according to a new collaborative study led by epidemiologists ...

Researchers develop a remote-controlled cancer immunotherapy system

January 15, 2018
A team of researchers has developed an ultrasound-based system that can non-invasively and remotely control genetic processes in live immune T cells so that they recognize and kill cancer cells.

Dietary fat, changes in fat metabolism may promote prostate cancer metastasis

January 15, 2018
Prostate tumors tend to be what scientists call "indolent" - so slow-growing and self-contained that many affected men die with prostate cancer, not of it. But for the percentage of men whose prostate tumors metastasize, ...

Pancreatic tumors may require a one-two-three punch

January 15, 2018
One of the many difficult things about pancreatic cancer is that tumors are resistant to most treatments because of their unique density and cell composition. However, in a new Wilmot Cancer Institute study, scientists discovered ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.