Researchers create device to identify risks for breast cancer

September 12, 2017 by Kayla Zacharias, Purdue University
Demonstration of concentration gradient in microfluidic system using red and blue color dye solutions. Credit: Purdue University

Researchers at Purdue University are creating a device that they hope will help identify risk factors that cause breast cancer.

The device, known as -on-a-chip, is a small plastic case with several thin layers and an opening for a piece of paper where researchers can place a portion of tissue. This tiny environment produces risk factors for cancer and mimics what happens in a living organism.

"We want to be able to understand how cancer starts so that we can prevent it," said Sophie Lelièvre, a professor of cancer pharmacology at Purdue.

The key to preventing cancer is understanding how it starts, but people generally don't want to be prodded with potential carcinogens. Cancer is a disease of gene expression, and organization of genes is specific to a particular species and organ, which means it wouldn't be useful to perform this study on rats or mice. Thus, Lelièvre needs a model that will mimic the organ in question. She teamed up with Babak Ziaie, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue, to create the device.

"Unlike conventional 2-D monolayer cell culture platforms, ours provides a 3-D cell culture environment with engineered gradient generators that promote the biological relevance of the environment to real tissue in the body," said Rahim Rahimi, a graduate student in Ziaie's lab.

The risk-on-a-chip is based on an earlier cell culture device developed by Lelièvre and Ziaie to study cancer progression. To modify it for prevention, Ziaie plans to add nanosensors that measure two risk factors: and tissue stiffness.

Oxidative stress is a chemical reaction that occurs as the result of diet, alcohol consumption, smoking or other stressors, and it alters the genome of the , aiding cancer development. The risk-on-a-chip will simulate oxidative stress by producing those molecules in a cell culture system that mimics the breast ducts where cancer starts.

Tissue stiffness refers to the stiffness of , which has been found to contribute to onset and progression of . The research team will measure stiffness within a tunable matrix made of fibers, whose density is relative to stiffness.

Breast cancer is particularly difficult to prevent because multiple work independently or in combination to promote disease onset. To account for this, the risk-on-a-chip will be tailorable to different groups of women at risk.

"We need to see if there's a difference in primary from black women or Asian women or white women, because that matters," Lelièvre said. "The way our genome is organized depends on an individual's ancestry and lifestyle; it's very complex. That's why is so difficult to treat."

The research team believes the risk-on-a-chip could be used to study additional risks by adding more cell types and biosensors. They estimate that optimization for each new condition will take between six months and a year.

Explore further: Researchers quantify immune cells associated with future breast cancer risk

Related Stories

The role of fat in assessing breast cancer risk

October 26, 2011

It is known that a high proportion of dense breast tissue, as seen with a mammogram, is associated with a high risk of breast cancer. But the role of non-dense fat tissue in the breast is less clear. New research published ...

Recommended for you

Detecting metabolites at close range

June 22, 2018

A novel concept for a biosensor of the metabolite lactate combines an electron transporting polymer with lactate oxidase, which is the enzyme that specifically catalyzes the oxidation of lactate. Lactate is associated with ...

CryoEM study captures opioid signaling in the act

June 22, 2018

Opioid drugs like morphine and fentanyl are a mainstay of modern pain medicine. But they also cause constipation, are highly addictive, and can lead to fatal respiratory failure if taken at too high a dose. Scientists have ...

Researchers achieve unprecedented control of polymer grids

June 21, 2018

Synthetic polymers are ubiquitous—nylon, polyester, Teflon and epoxy, to name just a few—and these polymers are all long, linear structures that tangle into imprecise structures. Chemists have long dreamed of making polymers ...

Template to create superatoms could make for better batteries

June 21, 2018

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have discovered a novel strategy for creating superatoms—combinations of atoms that can mimic the properties of more than one group of elements of the periodic table. These superatoms ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.