New tool developed to diagnose cancer cells

Washington, Nov 5 (IANS) A new tool known as MS-Chip can instantly tell cancerous cells from normal cells by having them go through microscopic barriers, say researchers who developed it.

The flexible cancerous cells can navigate through the tool's microscopic holes easily. But the rigid benign cells have trouble squeezing through them because of their well-developed cytoskeleton, a network of tiny but strong rod-shaped proteins that give cells their shape and structure.

In their feverish drive to divide, cancer cells may be diverting resources away from developing a cytoskeleton in favour of division, hence the squishiness, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.

"We have created many pathways for cells to cross barriers," said Lidong Qin, nanomedical scientist and the project's principal investigator from the Methodist Hospital, who worked with the Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to test the device, according to a Methodist statement.

"The throughput of a MS-Chip is at the level of one million cells. When a stiff cell blocks one particular barrier, many other bypasses will allow flexible cells to flow through," adds Qin.

Cancer stem cells are known to be softer and more pliable than other cancer cells. Researchers showed that flexible cells separated by the MS-Chip exhibited gene expression patterns consistent with cancer stem cells.

"Many papers indicate the presence of cancer stem cells means a worse prognosis for patients," said cancer scientist Jenny Chang, co-principal investigator and director of Methodist's cancer centre. "Yet they are not typically quantified by doctors," he added.

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