A New Device that Measures the ‘Stickiness’ of Tumor Cells May Improve Cancer Prognosis

Researchers have created a device that measures how “sticky” cancer cells are, which could improve prognostic evaluation of patient tumors. The device is built with a microfluidic chamber that sorts cells by their physical ability to adhere to their environment. The findings were published in Cancer Research.

“This new device could be the first step to better assess how likely tumor recurrence is,” said Adam Engler, bioengineering professor at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and senior author of the study in a press release. “Patients with few of these aggressive cells lying dormant in their surrounding tissue may be less likely to see a tumor reoccur 5, 10, or 20 years later.” Engler noted that by knowing a patient’s risk, follow-up treatments could be better tailored to the individual.

The device they developed includes a microfluidic chamber coated with an adhesive protein. After cancer cells adhere, they are placed in the chamber before a fluid is pushed through to detach cells. The faster the fluid moves, the higher the stress exerted on the cancer cells. The analysis led the team to another critical finding: weakly adherent cells possess a unique genetic signature that identifies them and enables them to migrate and invade faster. Comparing this signature to thousands of patients in the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) database, researchers observed that patients with tumors high in this “weakly adherent signature” experienced tumor recurrence occurred earlier and more frequently.

First author Pranjali Beri, a bioengineering Ph.D. student in Engler’s lab noted that: “If our mouse model shows that these cells indeed reduce cancer-free survival times, it will pave the way for substantial prognostic studies in humans with these types of solid tumors.