'Breast On A Chip' Will Test Nanomedical Detection & Treatment Options For Breast Cancer
Purdue University researchers have accomplished a major milestone in the engineering of a micro-model for breast cancer research. The slide-size model has been dubbed "breast on-a-chip" for its replication of the branching of the mammary duct system, where most breast cancers occur.
Sophie Lelièvre, a basic medical sciences professor active in cancer research, and James Leary, professor of nanomedicine and biomedical engineering, led the Purdue development of the breast on-a-chip model, which is expected to be extremely helpful in testing nanoparticle diagnostics and prospective treatments for breast cancer.
The team expects to develop magnetic nanoparticles that would be capable of attaching to cancer cells lying within the mammary ducts, areas that are now very difficult to reach through mammography or other radiographic instruments. The nanoparticles could carry dyes which would improve mammographic ability to catch cancers at a smaller size and earlier in their development.
Additionally, the magnetized dyes could be used to guide surgeons to the ducts where the cancers lie, and to guide anticancer agents to the cancerous cells.
"Nanoparticles can be designed to latch on to cancer cells and illuminate them, decreasing the size of a tumor that can be detected through mammography from 5 millimeters to 2 millimeters, which translates into finding the cancer 10 times earlier in its evolution," Leary said. "There also is great potential for nanoparticles to deliver anticancer agents directly to the cancer cells, eliminating the need for standard chemotherapy that circulates through the entire body causing harmful side effects."
To theorize how this might be accomplished, it was necessary for Leary to fabricate a 3-dimensional structure out of a rubber-like material called polydimethylsiloxane. The structure is roughly the size of a human hair and mimics the cells at the end of the mammary duct, which are various sizes and uniquely arranged. Lelièvre and her group were able to get real mammary cells to organize and grow in the mold as they would in a real mammary duct, something very few scientists have ever accomplished before.
"The design of the U-shaped channels and top was necessary for us to be able to successfully apply the cells, but it also allows us to make changes quickly and easily for different tests," Lelièvre said. "We can easily introduce changes among the cells or insert a few tumor cells to test the abilities of the nanoparticles to recognize them. The design also makes it very easy to evaluate the results as the entire model fits under a microscope."
One of the several 'next steps' in this team's work will be to coat the anti-cancer nanoparticles with a slippery surface so they will reach their destinations (cancer cells) without sticking to other cells.