LONDON A technique using a tiny glass window implanted on the skin of a mouse allows scientists to track individual cancer cells as they spread and attack other parts of the body, according to a study published on Sunday. This window could one day play a big role in analyzing how well developmental drugs block cancer from spreading, said Jeffrey Segall, a researcher at the Albert Einstein college of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York.
"We hope this technology can be used to test the ability of various drug treatments to inhibit tumor cell invasiveness and metastasize," said Segall, who led the study.
"In addition, the technology may be useful for following drug effects on tumor growth."
A single tumor is easier to treat but many times cancer cells metastasize by entering the bloodstream and spreading to other parts of the body. This is far more dangerous and what mainly kills people with the disease, Segall added.
So, better understanding this process by tracking cancer cells as they spread in the laboratory is an important step in more effectively treating the disease, Segall said.
"What we saw is that tumor cells invade in different amounts depending on where they are in the tumor," Segall said. "The most invasive ones are the ones around the blood vessels.
There have been previous indications this is the case, and the study published in the journal Nature Methods appears to confirm this, Segall added in a telephone interview.
To do this, the researchers implanted a little glass window in the skin of the mouse over the mammary gland and attached it with sutures about 3 millimeters to 5 millimeters across. The mice were injected with a breast cancer.
Then they used the same glowing jellyfish protein technique that won this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry to illuminate the cancer cells under ultraviolet light to better track the tumors, Segall said.
"The window allows us to look at the tumor over multiple days and the marking allows us to find those cells," Segall said. "We can track for longer periods and more easily."
(Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Louise Ireland)