3D model provides better understanding of metastatic cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new imaging method has given scientists a 3-D view of how cancer cells spread around the body, a process known as metastasis.

The discovery significantly improves our understanding of the process.

Many researchers around the world are trying to develop new drugs to block cancer spread, and developing accurate ways to test their effectiveness is key.

Previous attempts to test the effectiveness of new anti-metastatic drugs used two-dimensional systems and only measured cancer cells? ability to move along a flat 2-D surface.

The finding that cancer cells react differently in a 3D system explains why previous tests had failed to properly predict how the drugs would work in living systems.

Cells in fact move very differently in 3-D, said researcher and assistant professor Muhammad Zaman.

"Two-dimensional assays [experiments] ignore the obstacles that cells face in their natural contexts," he said.

"In 3-D, cells move through a thick jungle of fibres that hinder forward progress."

The imaging technology required remains too complex and intensive for regular use however, with almost a year's work required to gather the data for the study.

The research was conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Find out more about how cancers spread