us scientists develop implant that could prevent breast cancer spread

Breast invasive scirrhous carcinoma histopathology

Scientists in the United States may have found a way to 'soak up' metastatic cancer cells before they spread throughout the body, potentially preventing tumours from developing in vital organs and elsewhere.

The tiny device, just 5mm in diameter and made from an existing biomedical material, is implanted under subcutaneous abdominal fat and also has the potential to act as an early indicator, alerting doctors to the metastasis.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, reveal the implantation process and the subsequent foreign body or implant left behind triggers inflammation at the site followed by an immune response. The body's response appears to attract these rogue cancer cells to the implant, say researchers.

Metastasis, whereby cells break away from the original tumour and travel throughout the body via the blood or lymphatic system, would normally result in a separate tumour or tumours forming in other areas of the body and can be hard to treat, with cancer often returning at a later date. According to figures from Cancer Research UK, nine out of 10 cancer deaths are the result of metastatic cancers.

The implant was trialled in mice with mammary or breast tumours and metastatic cells were initialy identified using bioluminescence techniques, which made the metastatic cells easier to distinguish from normal cells in the living test subjects. They later employed inverse spectroscopic optical coherence tomography (ISOCT), a technique which, say researchers, could enable therapeutic intervention while the disease is at a very early stage.

ISOCT imaging is said to be a useful tool for the detection of just a few cells as whole body imaging techniques are unable to provide the required sensitivity and resolution. In relation to the requirements of this particular study, researchers describe ISOCT as a 'robust' method for viewing changes to the microenvironment surrounding the implant, including the presence of metastatic cells.

Professor Lonnie Shea from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Michigan, who led the study, says it is hoped that clinical trials involving human volunteers would be carried out in the near future. He says: "We need to see if metastatic cells will show up in the implant in humans like they did in the mice, and also if it's a safe procedure and that we can use the same imaging to detect cancer cells." He added that more laboratory trials involving mice would be needed to ascertain the effect such early detection bears in relation to overall outcome.

When researchers analysed the cancer cells that had spread in the mice that were not given the implant, and compared this to the cells of the mice that did have the implant, they found that the device effectively captured metastatic cells and also reduced the numbers present at other common sites of metastases, including the lungs and liver.

Key to reducing cancer spread

Scientists have been trying to find ways to detect and ultimately prevent the spread or metastasis of cancer at an early stage for many years, as many metastatic tumours are only diagnosed when they have begun to impact on major organ function by which time they can be notoriously difficult to treat successfully.

It is hoped that earlier detection of metastatic cells will eventually lead to the ability to stop this kind of cancer in its tracks, and therefore extend lives.

Lucy Holmes, Cancer Research UK's science information manager, told the BBC: "We urgently need new ways to stop cancer in its tracks.

"So far this implant approach has only been tested in mice, but it's encouraging to see these results, which could one day play a role in stopping cancer spread in patients."

Breast cancer risk

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and there are many different types. According to Breast Cancer Now, 12,000 women die from the disease every year but, thanks to research, more than 80% of women are still alive five years post-diagnosis.

Lady Drinking Alcohol

There are many factors that can contribute to each womans risk of developing the disease, some of which may be inherited. However, a healthy and active lifestyle can help to lower your risk and one factor which experts unanimously agree on is alcohol. Breast Cancer Now says - to put it simply - the more drinks you consume each day, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer will be.

To find out more about how to lower your chances of developing breast cancer by living a healthy lifestyle, visit the Breast Cancer Now Website.

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Georgie Fenn, writes most of our news articles and social media posts.