Jellyfish tentacles inspire a cancer treatment

LOS ANGELES — Jellyfish have inspired ideas for bird-safe wind turbines and artificial hearts. Now a team of researchers has drawn insight from a jellyfish’s tentacles to design a better way to capture dangerous cancer cells roving through the bloodstream.

Cancer cells are often most threatening when they break off from their original site and start invading other parts of the body, a process called metastasis. To find out if that’s happening in a patient, doctors often look for them in a sample of blood.

Current methods often try to filter these cells out of the bloodstream by running a tiny amount of blood through a channel in a microfluidic device. The channel is coated with antibodies that can latch on to specific proteins on a cancer cells’ surface. But the antibodies are simply too short — just a few nanometers in length — to catch much in the flowing liquid, especially since whole cells can be 10 to 30 micrometers long (a micrometer is 1,000 nanometers).

A study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked to nature for a solution to this intractable problem. Senior author Jeffrey Karp, a bioengineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University thought about the way marine animals like jellyfish and sea cucumbers use long tentacles or arms with sticky patches to snag tiny prey out of the water.

Thus inspired, they designed a device with long chains of DNA made out of aptamers — repeating, “sticky” blocks of DNA — specially made to latch on to a protein called tyrosine kinase 7, which is found in certain leukemia cells as well as in lung and colon cancers. The researchers also cut the flow surface into a herringbone pattern, causing the flowing blood to swirl around rather than go straight through; that made any cancer cells more likely to get snared by the DNA tentacles.

Karp and his colleagues found they could push fluid through 10 times faster than previous systems allowed. They also showed that their bio-inspired device can catch up to 80 percent of target cells. Scaling the technology up could increase the flow rate 100-fold and make it practical for future use in hospitals.

And since the tentacles can also be severed with enzymes, the captured cancer cells can be freed and recovered in the sample for later analysis, the study pointed out.

Since different aptamers can snag different types of proteins, the technology could prove useful for finding a number of different cancers. It may also be able to capture free-floating fetal cells in a pregnant woman’s bloodstream, the researchers said.

Identifying these metastatic cancer cells earlier would help doctors personalize their patients’ treatment. And for leukemia patients, it could one day help doctors see whether a treatment is working without resorting to painful bone marrow sampling.

—-

&Copy;2012 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

More in Local News

Mom and brother turn in suspect in Stanwood robberies

The man is suspected of robbing the same gas station twice, and apologizing to the clerk afterward.

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders apprentice Janette Alhanati (left) and journeyman Kurt Warwick construct wall panels for an upcoming boat project with Linblad Expedition Holdings. A federal grant from the Northwest Workforce Council will allow Nichols Brothers to add more apprentices to its workforce starting in January 2018.
Whidbey Island boatbuilder gets hiring boost

The grant from the Northwest Workforce Council will help expand the company’s apprenticeship program.

Derrick “Wiz” Crawford, 22, is a suspect in the homicide of his roommate. (Edmonds Police Department)
Roommate suspected in Edmonds killing found hiding in closet

Police had been searching for him for 10 days before locating him at a house in Everett.

Young woman missing from Mukilteo found safe

She called her parents and told them she was at a museum in Seattle.

Camano Island man gets 18 years for role in drug ring

He was convicted of helping lead a drug distribution network in four Washington counties.

Lake Stevens man missing since beginning of January

Jason Michael Knox White hasn’t used his credit card or withdrawn money from his bank since then.

Navy to put filter in Coupeville’s contaminated water system

Chemicals from firefighting foam was found in the town’s drinking water.

Video shows man suspected of attacking a woman in Edmonds

The man allegedly threw her on the ground, then ran away after the she began kicking and screaming.

Everett district relents on eminent domain moving expenses

Homeowners near Bothell still must be out by April to make way for a planned new high school.

Most Read