3D device gives clinicians a peek at how cancer spreads

Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center and Michigan Engineering have developed a tiny device capable of providing clinicians with a comprehensive view into how cancer spreads.

Explained in a study published in Scientific Reports, the device aims to provide patients and clinicians with a tool capable of detecting the spread of cancer cells. This improved insight into how each patient’s cancers advances may allow for early intervention to prevent further spread of the cancer and improve patient outcomes.

"It's especially important to be able to capture those leader cells and understand their biology—why are they so successful, why are they resistant to traditional chemotherapy and how can we target them selectively?" said study author Sofia Merajver, MD, PhD, scientific director of the Breast Oncology Program at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. "Microfluidic devices are helping us understand biology that was previously not accessible.”

Current microfluidic devices, while able to examine the characteristics of cancer cells, are only able to view cancer cells for a short period of time. As cancer cells gradually change over time, these devices are unable to offer a complete view of a patient’s cancer progression. The new microfluidic device utilizes a 3D suspension to feed cancer cells into the device with minimal disturbance for accurate results. The structure of the device allows for the cultivating of cells for periods of up to three weeks, giving clinicians the ability to view long-term changes in a patient’s cancer and offer a better understanding into providing a personalized treatment plan.

"A lot of tumor processes like invasion and resistance don't happen overnight. Our goal was to track the long-term evolution of invasion," said lead study author Koh Meng Aw Yong, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Merajver's lab. "We cannot look at just a certain time point, like in a three-day experiment. That might not represent what's happening in the body over time."