December 13, 2008
Microtube Could Catch Cancer Cells From Bloodstream

Most cancers kill because they metastasize by traveling in the bloodstream, landing in other parts of the body, and then growing in each of these other locations. If cancer cells could be captured and killed in the bloodstream the chances of dying from cancer would go down substantially. Well, a Cornell University researcher has developed an implantable microtube that can capture cancer cells from the bloodstream and instruct them to die.

In a new tactic in the fight against cancer, Cornell researcher Michael King has developed what he calls a lethal "lint brush" for the blood -- a tiny, implantable device that captures and kills cancer cells in the bloodstream before they spread through the body.

Humans in the future are going to walk around with assorted biomedical implants. Sensors, cancer cell catchers, little drug reservoirs, and little chemical factories will all work to keep us healthy and control disease...

In research conducted at the University of Rochester and to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering, King showed that two naturally occurring proteins can work together to attract and kill as many as 30 percent of tumor cells in the bloodstream -- without harming healthy cells.

King's approach uses a tiny tubelike device coated with the proteins that could hypothetically be implanted in a peripheral blood vessel to filter out and destroy free-flowing cancer cells in the bloodstream.

A cancer capturing microtube could also serve to detect cancer at early stages. For example, if the microtube started capturing a lot of cells that seem cancerous the microtube could change an attached bar code reader to a configuration that would signal "cancer" the next time it was read.

To capture the tumor cells in the blood, King used selectin molecules -- proteins that move to the surface of blood vessels in response to infection or injury. Selectin molecules normally recruit white blood cells (leukocytes) which "roll" along their surfaces and create an inflammatory response -- but they also attract cancer cells, which can mimic the adhesion and rolling process.

Once bound to selectin the cancer cells get exposed to the protein TRAIL (Tumor Necrosis Factor Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand) which connects to receptors on the cancer cells and send a signal for the cancer cells to die. One can imagine that some cancer cells will have genetic mutations that will cause them to ignore the suicide signal. So maybe this technique will need further enhancement to provide additional ways to cause the cancer cells to die.

King sees the device as years away from human use. I wonder if in the long run the tube will be replaced with genetically engineered cells that specialize in creating surfaces that catch cancer cells.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 December 13 10:21 PM  Biotech Cancer

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