Cancer ‘sponge’ can spot and absorb tumour cells as they start to spread

Cancer, News & Analysis

9th September 2015

According to research published in the journal Nature Communications, US researchers have developed a ‘sponge-like’ implant that can trap cancer cells as they pass through the body.

The ability to stop cancer spreading is crucially important because most cancer deaths occur when cancer develops in multiple parts of the body.

The implant, a 5mm biomaterial device, has been tested in mice with breast cancer. It works by drawing in cancerous cells and allowing them to grow on the implant, meaning that they are unable to grow on healthy tissue.

The researchers proved that by putting the device under the skin it was able to absorb cancer cells that were circulating in the subjects.

They could see what had been taken in by the implant by using an imaging technique called optical coherence tomography, which is able to differentiate between healthy and cancerous cells.

The implant specifically focused on cancers present in the bloodstream, which are difficult to detect and treat.

The study’s lead author, Professor Lonnie Shea of the University of Michigan, told the BBC he hopes that the process can be replicated in human test subjects.

‘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.’