Tiny tumour detective

US researchers have received a $2m grant from the National Cancer Institute to develop the world’s smallest cancer detection device to study tumour microenvironments. It will be used to investigate where tumours interact with surrounding tissues, cells and chemicals in ways that encourage cancer cells to spread through metastasis.

The researchers at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) at the University at Albany and Albert Einstein College of Medicine of YeshivaUniversity will develop the next-generation microchip. When placed in a cancerous mass, it will be able to gather information on the presence of metastatic cells that would demand more aggressive cancer therapy.

The programme’s principal investigator Dr. Condeelis previously used a multiphoton confocal microscope to directly observe cellular interactions in the tumour microenvironment of live animal models of breast cancer. By placing an artificial blood vessel near tumours, he was able to collect motile cancer cells for study and to predict by the presence or absence of certain signalling molecules whether the tumour cells have the potential to metastasise.

The Einstein and Albany researchers will use nanotechnology to design a microchip version of the artificial blood vessel that Dr. Condeelis has used successfully in animals.

The microchip will be assembled from nanoscale components so that several different functions can be carried out within a very small package. The goal is to implant these 0.1mm microchips in human tumours, where they would remain for days or weeks. The chips would report remotely to scanners on the nature of the cells that infiltrate them, in particular, on whether metastatic cells are present that would call for more aggressive cancer therapy.