As reported in Cancer Research, a small implantable scaffold device underneath the skin can catch cancer cells, slowing the development of metastatic tumors in organs, and permit time to intervene with therapies or surgery. This leads to improved breast cancer survival, by providing a path that will identify metastatic cancer early and be able to intervene to improve the outcomes. The implantable scaffold device can last as long as two years after implanting it under the patient’s skin, monitoring it with non-invasive imaging, and removing it if there are signs of colonization of the cancer cells. At that time, treatment could be administered.
The device is made of FDA-approved biodegradable material that is used in wound dressings and sutures. It mimics the environment in organs prior to cancer cells migrating there. The scaffold attracts the immune cells of the body, which draw in the cancer cells. The immune cells are hindered from heading to the lung, brain, or liver (the areas where breast cancer usually spreads.
Immune cells typically colonize a metastatic site and pave the way for cancer cells to be able to spread to that organ. The study suggests that bringing the immune cells into the device limits the ability of those cells to prepare the metastatic sites for cancer cells. The immune cells attract cancer cells to this engineered environment.
The researchers believe that removing the scaffold and being able to examine the cancer cells in it will allow the use of precision medicine techniques to hopefully target the treatment that would be most likely to have an impact.
Lonnie D. Shea, Ph.D., study author and Department Chair at the University of Michigan’s Biomedical Engineering, states that this study, done in mice, improves on earlier research which showed that the implantable device is effective in capturing metastatic cancer cells. It now shows that early detection combined with a therapeutic intervention or surgery can improve survival before the appearance of the initial signs of metastatic cancer.
Jacqueline S. Jeruss, M.D., Ph.D., study author and associate professor of surgery and biomedical engineering and also director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Breast Care Center explains that early signs of metastasis are currently difficult to detect. Imaging is done once a patient has symptoms, but the disease may be substantial already. Detection methods need to be improved that will identify metastasis when treatments can have a beneficial impact on slowing down the disease’s progression.
It is to be noted that the researchers emphasize that this is for early detection and treatment. It is not a cure and will not prevent the disease nor reverse established progression.
The team plans to develop a clinical trial protocol that will use the scaffold for monitoring metastasis in patients who have been treated for early stage breast cancer. They hope it will eventually be used for the monitoring of breast cancer in those at high risk and genetic susceptibility and also be used in other types of cancer.