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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Draper, MIT Device Could Help Stop Spread of Cancerous Tumors

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Draper Laboratory and MIT have invented a device that may enable drug developers to create medicines that stop cancer in its tracks by allowing them to see how diseased cells migrate.

A longer term goal for the device is to enable hospital labs to create more individualized treatment plans for cancer patients through gaining a better understanding of how the disease is spreading in their bodies.

MIT and Draper researchers recently published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that outlines how different mechanisms govern the spread of cancerous cells away from tumors into other areas in the body.

MIT is studying the biological mechanisms of cancer’s progression in the body. Jessie Jeon, an MIT student and Draper Laboratory Fellow, has been working at Draper to develop a more cost-effective version of the clear, 3D microfluidic platform that acts as a stand-in for a tumor in order to watch the spread of cancer cells.

By better understanding the spread of cancer cells, researchers can develop drugs that slow or stop metastasis by blocking the spreading of tumor cells through tissue and into the vascular system.

The current version of the device is made from rubber, which is more expensive to create, and absorbs compounds, chemicals and drugs that are used during testing, which can lead to inaccurate readings, and make it more difficult to view the cancer cell migration patterns. Jeon is working on a version made from hard plastic, which blocks absorption, and is far easier for high-volume manufacturing machines to produce the design. This approach reduces the unit cost, making it easier for more widespread use amongst medical researchers and hospital labs.

“By capturing the essential elements of a tumor in the device, and producing the device in a high-throughput fashion, we hope to speed development of cancer therapies,” said Joseph Charest, principal investigator for the project at Draper, and co-author on the MIT paper.

Charest collaborates on the project, which is funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute’s Innovative Molecular Analysis Technologies program, with MIT’s Roger Kamm and William Polacheck. The National Cancer Institute is part of the National Institutes of Health.

“Metastatic cancers contribute to 90% of the deaths due to cancer, yet no drugs are currently available that are directed at preventing the various stages by which cancer spreads,” Kamm said.

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