‘Breast on-a-chip’ to help experts in cancer research

January 25th, 2011 - 6:26 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan 25 (ANI): With a large number of women nowadays getting breast cancer, developing methods for early diagnosis and subsequent treatment has been a major public health priority.

Now, researchers at the Purdue University have accomplished a major milestone in the engineering of a micro-model for breast cancer research.

The tiny slide-size model, dubbed ‘breast on-a-chip’ for its replication of the branching mammary duct system, could help experts to test nanomedical approaches for the detection and treatment of breast cancer.

The model will serve as an ‘engineered organ’ to study the use of nanoparticles to detect and target tumor cells within the ducts.

“We’ve known that the best way to detect breast cancer early and treat it effectively would be to get inside the mammary ducts to evaluate and treat the cells directly, and this is the first step in that direction,” said Sophie Lelievre, a basic medical sciences professor active in cancer research, who led the team along with James Leary, a professor of nanomedicine and biomedical engineering.

Physicians have tried to access the mammary ducts through the nipple in the past, injecting fluid solutions to try to wash out cells that could be examined and used for a diagnosis of cancer.

However, this approach could only reach the first third of the breast due to fluid pressure from the ducts, which branch and become smaller and smaller as they approach the glands that produce milk, said Leary.

The researchers now expect to introduce magnetic nanoparticles through openings in the nipple, use a magnetic field to guide them through the ducts where they would attach to cancer cells and then reverse the magnetic field to retract any excess nanoparticles.

The nanoparticles could be used to carry contrast agents to improve mammographic fluorescent markers to guide surgeons or anticancer agents to treat the cancer, said Leary.

“Nanoparticles can be designed to latch on to cancer cells and illuminate them, decreasing the size of a tumor that can be detected through mammography from 5 millimeters to 2 millimeters, which translates into finding the cancer 10 times earlier in its evolution,” he added.

“There is also great potential for nanoparticles to deliver anticancer agents directly to the cancer cells, eliminating the need for standard chemotherapy that circulates through the entire body causing harmful side effects,” said Leary.

“The idea is that nanoparticles with a magnetic core can float through the naturally occurring fluid in the ducts and be pulled by a magnet as opposed to being pushed with pressure,” he added.

To theorize how this might be accomplished, the team created a three-dimensional replica out of a rubber-like material called polydimethylsiloxane. The structure is roughly the size of a human hair and mimics the cells at the end of the mammary duct system.

Lelievre and her group coaxed the cells to grow within the mold and behave as they would within a real human breast.

“The design of the U-shaped channels and top was necessary for us to be able to successfully apply the cells, but it also allows us to make changes quickly and easily for different tests,” she said.

Details of the investigation appear in the current issue of journal Integrative Biology. (ANI)

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