Simulating Flow Leads to Better Insights Into the Spread of Cancer

Using seed funding from Texas 4000, Professor Aaron Baker and his research team have created a new high throughput device that simulates how cancer cells flow in the bloodstream and adhere to other cells and tissues in the human body. This research could lead to more informative strategies for screening cancer drugs.

photo of high throughput device

   This high throughput device simulates how
   cancer cells flow in the bloodstream. The device
   was made by Chris Spruell (B.S. 2012), a former
   student who worked in Baker's lab. Graduate
   student Adrianne Spencer has used the device
   to perform studies.

After tumor removal, cancer may recur or metastasize in another part of the body. This happens when trace cancer cells penetrate and circulate through the vascular and lymphatic systems. Cancer spreads when these cells collect and adhere together or to another tissue.

The new high throughput device is innovative because it simulates the biophysical forces that are key factors in the spread of cancer.

Reproducing the flow process can improve screening for cancer drugs compared with studying cancer inhibitors in static environments. Mimicking flow gives a more realistic representative of the true biology of cancer metastasis.

Using the high throughput device, Baker’s lab has identified positive results from three cancer-inhibiting drugs that been approved or are currently in clinical trials. They have also found that some cancer inhibitors lead to increased adhesion of cancer cells in flow-based but not static experiments, which suggest that some drugs that could reduce cancer growth may enhance the spread of cancer.

The findings have been published in two papers in the journals Scientific Reports and Lab on a Chip. Future work will involve validating findings in animal models.

About Texas 4000

Texas 4000 is an annual charity bike ride beginning in Austin and ending in Anchorage, Alaska. Cyclists raise money to participate in the ride that ultimately supports cancer research. Texas 4000 is a not-for-profit organization founded by BME alumnus Chris Condit, who now serves on the group’s board of directors. The organization has funded multiple researchers in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and is a partner in the department’s NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU).