Implantable device to trap and kill cancer cells

December 12th, 2008 - 5:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 12 (IANS) The days of rampaging cancer cells might be numbered, thanks to an implantable device developed by a researcher. Cornell University researcher Michael King has designed a lethal “lint brush” for the blood - a tiny device that traps and kills cancer cells in the bloodstream before they spread through the body.

The strategy, which takes advantage of the body’s immune system, could lead to new treatments for a variety of cancers, said King, who is an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell.

King showed that two naturally occurring proteins can work together to attract and kill as many as 30 percent of tumour cells flowing past the device at a single time, with the potential to kill more in the closed-loop system of the body.

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.

To capture the tumour cells in the blood, King used selectin molecules — proteins that move to the surface of blood vessels in response to infection or injury, said a Cornell release written by Lauren Gold.

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.

In the body, the inlet and outlet would connect to an artery and vein, respectively.

During experimentation, once the cancer cells adhered to the selectin on the microtube’s surface, King exposed them to a protein called TRAIL (for Tumour Necrosis Factor Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand), which binds to two so-called “death receptors” on the cancer cells’ surface, setting in motion a process that causes the cell to self-destruct.

The TRAIL then releases the cells back into the bloodstream to die; and the device is left free to work on new cells.

“It’s a little more sophisticated than just filtering the blood, because we’re not just accumulating cancer cells on the surface,” King said.

These findings will be published in Biotechnology and Bioengineering.

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