Biophotonic methods will work to better understand how breast cancer spreads

A research program will utilize biophotonic technologies in an effort to identify, quantify, and locate breast cancer cells.

A multi-institution consortium, being led by research groups at the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Polytechnic Institute; Utica, NY) and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Bronx, NY), has been awarded a five-year, $2.9 million grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH; Bethesda, MD)'s National Cancer Institute (NCI; Rockville, MD). The principal investigators on the grant—John Condeelis and David Entenberg of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Jim Castracane of SUNY Polytechnic Institute—will lead a research program to utilize biophotonic technologies in an effort to identify, quantify, and locate the breast cancer cells that contribute to tumor progression, metastasis, and chemotherapy resistance.

Related: $1M partnership to advance nanotechnology-enabled cancer research

Castracane will lead SUNY Polytechnic Institute's research, funded by $890,000 from the grant, that continues its established partnership with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Mount Sinai Medical Center, and the University of Wisconsin - Madison. The research focus will be to develop single/multiple-reservoir, implantable microfluidic imaging windows (MFIWs) that can be combined with unique imaging technologies developed at the Gruss Lipper Biophotonics Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The MFIW will be mounted over the tumor samples, and enable the release of specific chemoattractants and multiple fluorescent antibodies using noncontact mechanisms such as light-activated microvalves and light-driven microfluidic pumps. This work will be in support of the overall effort to label and collect cancer cells, all while obtaining images through the windows of the results in live tumors at single-cell resolution and in real time.

Each additional partnering institution will contribute a unique technological development to the study. For example, Mount Sinai will contribute biosensors for tumor cell dormancy that can visually determine which cells are actively dividing and, therefore, susceptible to the effects of chemotherapy and which cells are not. Also, the University of Wisconsin - Madison will contribute imaging technologies that can directly visualize the metabolic state of cells.

Overall, the research under the NIH grant will support two graduate students' research at SUNY Polytechnic Institute, as well as a number of other students at the institution's partnering organizations, in addition to making use of the institution's advanced resources. Relying on its 200 mm wafer cleanroom capability, the advanced semiconductor-based tools are expected to fabricate the microdevices; the confocal microscope is being used for imaging, and Castracane’s team will be able to monitor progress of the cell dynamics as well as the microdevice’s release of selected biomolecules.

Additionally, this work is complementary to previously announced research being done with an Israeli company, SpacePharma, in which cell studies are being translated to simulate microgravity in SUNY Polytechnic Institute's nanobioscience labs, with the potential to send the experiment to the International Space Station to gain a greater understanding of the impact of microgravity on cancer cell behavior.

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