A December 22 article in the Boston Globe reported on Assistant Professor Jungwoo Lee and his colleagues in the Chemical Engineering (ChE) Department at UMass Amherst who are developing microenvironments that allow them to study how cancer cells that move around in the human body change from dormant to active, and also what causes or prevents that change. Understanding this process, the researchers say, could lead to new treatments that prevent cancer from metastasizing throughout the body. See News Office release.
The research team is headed by Lee and includes ChE Associate Professor Shelly R. Peyton, ChE graduate student Ryan A. Carpenter, and ChE undergraduate Jun-Goo Kwak. Their latest findings are published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.
As the Globe article explained, “Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst set out to discover how and why dormant cancer cells in the human body wake up after years of slumber, taking the lives of thousands of cancer survivors annually across the globe.
“The team developed a microenvironment that mirrors that of humans. They inserted it into mice to understand what causes or prevents the transition from a dormant cancer cell to an active one, a phenomenon that is difficult to track, said Jungwoo Lee, UMass Amherst assistant professor of chemical engineering and lead author of the study.”
Lee and his team have developed an implantable biomaterial that recruits rare tumor cells and enables long-term observation of their micro-environmental evolution, according to highlights in Science Translational Medicine and Nature Biomedical Engineering. The Science Translational Medicine highlight explained that this approach could offer a method for quantitative evaluation of therapeutics that target long-term suppression of metastasis. The same highlight concluded that “Other applications of this technology could include testing of therapeutics that target the mechanisms of immune escape and development of safer immunotherapies.” The two highlights focused on an article originally published in in the prestigious journal Nature Biomedical Engineering and titled “Implantable pre-metastatic niches for the study of the microenvironmental regulation of disseminated human tumor cells” (or DCTs). The lead author of the Nature Biomedical Engineering article was Lee’s graduate student, Carpenter.
As the authors wrote in that Nature Biomedical Engineering paper: “Implantable pre-metastatic niches provide a new opportunity to study DTC activation and evolution to lethal metastasis and could facilitate the development of effective anti-metastatic therapies.” (January 2019)