A significant aspect of what makes cancer dangerous is its ability to spread from one organ to another that is not directly connected to it. This is known as metastasis. Most people who die of cancer die of metastatic disease.
We know that aggressive forms of breast cancer are capable of changing themselves to better adapt to different organs in the body. This function increases a cell’s motility, which is what the field of biology calls the ability to actively move around. If scientists are to better prevent metastasis, they must first understand how these cells move as they do.
These problems pose several important questions: knowing how dangerous metastasis is, how do we determine which cancerous cells are likely to spread and how do we do it in a manner that is cost-effective and feasible on a meaningful scale?
Enter Sofia Merajver. Sofia is a researcher at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation as well as a professor of Internal Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Michigan where she leads the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk Evaluation Program. Her research may be a breakthrough in answering our question.
In order to study how the cancer cells move about, she and her colleagues created a small, inexpensive device that mimics the different organs of the body where breast cancer is likely to spread. Live breast cancer cells are taken from a patient and placed inside the device allowing Sofia and her team to determine which cells are most likely to metastasize. The device is sensitive enough to determine movement even before a tumor would be detectible. The research is vital to determining the best way to prevent cell movement.
Sofia and her team hope their innovative tool will guide doctors in preventing metastases in women with aggressive breast cancers in the US and worldwide, especially in impoverished areas where healthcare resources are scarce and cost is a significant factor in treatment.
- What is metastatic cancer?
- Photo Credit: Breast cancer cells splitting – BBC – Science Photo Library