Sometimes scientific research is amazing! We are so lucky to have so many brilliant and gifted young people interested in conquering cancer.

One of these brilliant young people is a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins, Andrew Wong. Mr Wong is a Ph.D. student studying materials science and engineering. Along with his facility advisor he has developed a lab device that gives cancer researchers a microscopic look at metastasis. Ninety percent (90%) of cancer deaths are the result of spreading tumor cells or metastasis. We currently have very little understanding of this most lethal process that cancer uses to kill us. Understanding the way tumor cells spread through the body could uncover new ways to keep control and stop cancer.

Mr. Wong has reported that he has been able to capture video of human breast cancer cells as they burrowed through reconstituted body tissue material and made their way into an artificial blood vessel. “There’s still so much we don’t know about exactly how tumor cells migrate through the body, partly because, even using our best imaging technology, we haven’t been able to see precisely how these individual cells move into blood vessels………our new tool gives us a clearer, close-up look at this process.”,” said Mr. Wong.

Wong has videoed cancer cells as they crawled through a three-dimensional collagen matrix that resembles the human tissue that surrounds tumors when cancer cells break away and try to relocate elsewhere in the body.

According to Searson, the corresponding author of the paper, “Mr. Wong began this project five years ago. Andrew was able to build a functional artificial blood vessel and a microenvironment that lets us capture the details of the metastatic process,” …… In the past it’s been virtually impossible to see the steps involved in this process with this level of clarity. We’ve taken a significant leap forward.”

Wong’s device is allowing researchers see detailed images of a cancer cell as it found a weak spot in the vessel wall, exerted pressure on it and squeezed through far enough so that the force of the passing current swept it into the circulating fluid.

“Cancer cells would have a tough time leaving the original tumor site if it weren’t for their ability to enter our bloodstream and gain access to distant sites,” Wong said. “So it’s actually the entry of cancer cells into the bloodstream that allows the cancer to spread very quickly.”

Perhaps a better understanding of the process that cells use to move away from their initial site to other parts of the body will prove to be a significant vehicle that will allow us to stop the development of distant metastases. Mr. Wong has said that his next step will include using his new device to examine different drug’s ability to thwart the development of metastases.

Cancer Res September 1, 2014 74:4937-4945;Published OnlineFirst June 26, 2014

Joel T. Nowak, M.A., M.S.W.