“It’s almost like we destroyed their GPS so they couldn’t find the highways. This stopped the cells in their tracks. The cells just sat there and didn’t move”, said lead author Paolo Provenzano, University of Minnesota biomedical engineering associate professor and Masonic Cancer Cente, researcher. His team managed to effectively prevent the usual motion towards blood vessels and adjacent tissue that occurs with the disease.
Targeting the “motors” that power the mutated cells lead to a switch into a dendritic or “flowing” response to follow pathways in tumors that drive cell migration and promote spreading of the cancer. This was possible through two-dimensional, engineered microenvironments which mimic how the cells behave within tumors.
“By using these controlled network microenvironments, we were able to test hundreds of cell movement events in hours compared to one or two in the same time frame by imaging a tumor”, pointed out Erdem Tabdanov, Ph.D co-author of the study.
The majority of cancer related deaths are due to the spreading all through the body, affecting organs and creating tumors. Halting this advancement could allow doctors the time to use other therapies or make changes in medication or dosage, in order to improve survival rates.
A number of steps still need to be taken before the procedure can become a treatment. Animal trials at first, with human testing a few years later, to investigate potential side effects and any other interactions.
“Ultimately, we’d like to find ways to suppress cancer cell movement while enhancing immune cell movement to fight the cancer”, noted Dr. Provenzano.