PARIS – Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are applying microchannel resonator technology to measure physical changes in tumor cells as they become metastatic.
Researchers said they used a suspended microchannel resonator (SMR) to accurately measure the mass and density of individual cells. Inside the SMR, cells flow through a channel carved into a tiny slab that vibrates at a resonant frequency that can be measured with a laser beam. When a cell flows through the channel, the slab’s resonant frequency changes, enabling scientists to calculate the cell’s mass and density.
Researchers said they modified the system to track each cell’s velocity, assess its deformability and how much friction it experiences as it passes through a narrow constriction.
They compared the deformability of two types of mouse lung-cancer cells, knowing that the two cell types differ in the expression of only one transcription factor known as the NKX2-1. Researchers said they observed that cells that do not express NKX2-1 entered the narrow channel more rapidly.
Then, researchers compared non-metastatic and metastatic cells from the same mouse. They noted that these metastatic cells are not only more deformable than normal non-metastatic cancer cells but they also travel faster through narrow spaces. “It seems that the cells experience less friction, making it easier for them to get through the channels,” commented Sangwon Byun, an MIT postdoc.
Researchers said they are currently using the SMR system to identify circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in cancer patients’ blood samples. Tests include analysis of genes expressed and proteins produced to learn how they break free from tumors.
“When you use a specific marker to look for these cells, you find the cells that you’re looking for, but you may be missing a whole population of cells,” declared Josephine Shaw, an MIT graduate student. “It’s possible that by using a more holistic and physical approach, we may be able to find certain cells that we wouldn’t be able to find molecularly, because we wouldn’t be able to guess ahead of time what these cells would be expressing.”
Looking forward, scientists said they intend to examine physical changes that occur in cells as they go through the epithelial-mesenchymal transition, a process that allows cancer cells to lose their adhesion and become mobile, helping them metastasize.Related articles
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