Mechanics of Breast Cancer Metastasis Discovered, Offering Target for Treatment

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“Using these three-dimensional models that partially mimic a tumor, we discovered that if we block the dynein, the cancer cells cannot effectively move and infiltrate solid tissues,” Sheikhi said. “In both models, we found that dynein is extremely important for cell locomotion, which suggests a whole new method for cancer management. Instead of killing the cancer cells with radiation or chemotherapy, we are showing how to paralyze them. This is great news because you don't really have to kill the cells, which is a harsh approach that targets both cancerous and healthy cells. Instead, you just have to stop the cancer cells from moving.”

Tabdanov explained that cell “paralysis” could prove to be an effective treatment strategy for cancer compared to chemotherapeutic treatments, because after surgical removal of the main tumor, it could prevent the cancer from spreading without damaging healthy tissues and cells.

“The trick with chemotherapy is to kill the cancer cells slightly faster than the rest of the body — it’s a race against time,” Tabdanov said. “Chemotherapy causes a lot of damage to the body’s normal, healthy tissues while it is busy killing the cancer. If we instead contained the cancer, stopped it in its tracks, we could keep the healthy parts of the body healthy.”

The researchers noted that any potential clinical treatment is still far off — as they have yet to run human or animal trials. Sheikhi has filed multiple patents related to his team’s platform and plans to use the technology to study a myriad of diseases, including other cancers.

“We are very excited about this collaboration with the Penn State College of Medicine, and our labs are working closely on other projects,” Sheikhi said. “I think these platforms could one day enable personalized medicine and personalized treatment for cancer and, hopefully, many other diseases.”

Other authors on the paper are Yerbol Tagay of Penn State College of Medicine; Sina Kheirabadi and Zaman Ataie of Penn State’s Department of Chemical Engineering; Rakesh Singh of the University of Rochester Medical Center; Denis Tsygankov of Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University; and Olivia Prince, Ashley Nguyen, Alexander Zhovmer and Xuefei Ma of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Startup funds from the Department of Pharmacology at Penn State College of Medicine, the Meghan Rose Bradley Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration supported this work.

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