Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston have created a device which can discover and capture cancerous cells, and may be able to help diagnose or even treat patients suffering from the affliction.
Inspired by the fashion in which jellyfish gather nutrients—their long tentacles can detect small food particles floating through water and bind to them once discovered—this microchip is capable of being programmed to seek and detain cells with specific protein markers. By fastening to the chip elongated strands of DNA designed to interact with cancer cells, the new device mimics a jellyfish’s tentacles and gathers up cancerous specks floating through the bloodstream in much the same way as the invertebrates find food. It is commonly the metastasis of cancer through the body, not the original tumor, which kills patients; circumventing such a spread could save lives.
This is not the first time scientists have looked to jellies for medicinal inspiration. Several months ago, another team in Caltech and Harvard began synthesizing a sort of organic pacemaker based off the jellyfish’s method of locomotion.
The team at Brigham hopes their take on the world’s oldest multi-organ animal can be used to not only find or remove cells that are present in the body, but help advance already existent treatment methods. By tracking which cells are present in the body before a session of chemotherapy and which remain afterward, scientists will be able to study why certain cancers are more resistant to the procedure than others. Isolating the cells could also help doctors customize treatment and prescriptions for each patient, further aiding the struggle against relapse.
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