A device being dubbed a cancer “decoy” can attract cancer cells roving through the body and trap them, according to a study out of the University of Michigan.
The device is very small and implanted just underneath the skin. Eventually, researchers hope that these small devices could replace invasive procedures like tissue biopsies, instead allowing researchers to analyze the cancer cells caught in the device.
So far, the University of Michigan researchers have demonstrated the success of the decoy device in mice. Their most recent findings were published in Cancer Research, a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research.
The decoy device is implanted just underneath a patient’s skin, making it easily accessible to researchers and doctors. The device is made up of scaffolding that captures cells. First, immune cells are drawn to the device. The immune cells, in turn, attract cancer cells. Researchers have found that the decoy is able to successfully draw in multiple types of cancer.
Both the immune cells and the cancer cells offer valuable insight about the patient.
“When we started off, the idea was that we would biopsy the scaffold and look for tumor cells that had followed the immune cells there,” said Lonnie Shea, the William and Valerie Hall Chair of biomedical engineering at U-M and author of the study. “But we realized that by analyzing the immune cells that gather first, we can detect the cancer before it’s spreading.”
The immune cells can indicate to researchers whether current treatments are effective, and whether or not the subject is sensitive or resistant to treatment.
The trapped cancer cells, on the other hand, offer unique information about the disease and its progression. There are 635 genes in the captured cancer cells, and researchers at U of M identified 10 out of the 635 that could predict a few things about the mouse: whether it was healthy, if it had cancer that hadn’t spread, and if it had cancer that had already begun to spread. All of this was possible through this small device, instead of an invasive biopsy.
The device can detect signs that the cancer is gearing up to invade other parts of the body, before cancer cells even arrive at their intended destinations. This can have a huge impact on treatment. In previous research that the team has done, the device could slow the growth of metastatic breast cancer tumors in mice by blocking cancer cells from even reaching the tumor.
Because the device is so easy to reach just underneath the skin, doctors would be able to track the effectiveness of cancer treatments as they happen.
In the future, the researchers hope to equip the small devices with sensors and Bluetooth technology. This way, the device could send information in real time, without even physically touching it.
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.