Researchers have developed a technique to track individual breast cancer cells as they metastasize and invade other regions of the body. The approach gives the scientists a literal 'window on a tumour'.
Cancers are much more amenable to treatment when the cancer cells are confined to a single tumour. Unfortunately many tumours have a propensity to metastasize -- a process by which individual cancer cells exit the tumour, enter the bloodstream and travel to other regions of the body.
Online in Nature Methods, Jacco van Rheenen and colleagues describe a mammary imaging window they can suture into place on top of a breast cancer tumour in a mouse. Using this window they could image the cells clearly and study metastasis for long periods of time in the living animal. To aid them in tracking tumour cells through the window, the researchers artificially expressed a 'coloured' protein, which could be switched on at will, in the breast cancer cells, before implanting them in the mouse breast to form the tumour. This allowed the investigators to track the cells' movement over hours and even days.
Using this approach, they observed differences in metastatic behaviour of cells in different parts of the tumour and also monitored the appearance of the coloured cells in other regions of the body. This method will allow detailed long-term investigation of breast cancer biology in a native breast environment and could be extended to diverse studies of cell motility and tissue morphogenesis in the future.
Jacco van Rheenen (Hubrecht Institute - Academy of Arts and Sciences and University Medical Centre Utrecht, Netherlands)
Jeffrey E. Segall (Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, New York, NY, USA)
John Condeelis (Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, New York, NY, USA)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature Methods press release.
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