Implanted window helps track cancer spread

In collaboration with the Press Association

US scientists have developed a technique which allows them to observe the spread of cancer cells from a breast tumour in mice and could provide vital information on the process of metastasis (cancer spread).

Researchers at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York found that, by inserting a glass 'coverslip' into the mouse's chest, they were able to observe the activity of breast cancer cells for 21 days under a microscope.

The approach allowed them to track the movements of cancer cells, which they marked with substances so that individual cells could be observed.

According to a study report in the journal Nature Methods, the technique has enabled the team to observe the activity of cancer cells without disturbing their natural micro-environment.

Jeffrey Segall, lead researcher at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, told Reuters: "The window allows us to look at the tumour over multiple days and the marking allows us to find those cells. We can track for longer periods and more easily."

The researchers have already discovered that small changes to the tumour's micro-environment can create the conditions needed for cancer cells to move away from the original tumour site and form secondary tumours (metastases) elsewhere.

The technique could therefore provide vital clues as to how cancer spreads and enable scientists to develop new forms of anti-cancer therapy that prevent cancers from becoming advanced.

Dr Segall told Reuters: "We hope this technology can be used to test the ability of various drug treatments to inhibit tumour cell invasiveness and metastasis. In addition, the technology may be useful for following drug effects on tumour growth."

Dr Joanna Peak, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, commented: "Tackling metastasis remains one of the biggest challenges in successfully treating cancer, but it's also one of the most difficult elements of cancer to study in the laboratory.

"This cutting-edge research provides new opportunities to study the complex relationship between cancer cells and their surrounding tissue - to help us understand metastasis in more detail."

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