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‘Breast-On-A-Chip’ Tests Imaging Techniques

January 27, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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Purdue University researchers have created a tiny model of female breast tissue designed for testing the use of nanoparticles in detecting and targeting breast cancer.

The tiny, slide-size model, nicknamed “breast-on-a-chip,” mimics the branching mammary duct system, where most breast cancers begin. The researchers hope that eventually they can introduce magnetic nanoparticles through openings in the nipple, use a magnetic field to guide the particles through the ducts to cancer cells, then reverse the field to extract any excess particles.

The nanoparticles could carry contrast agents to improve mammography, fluorescent markers to guide surgeons, or agents to treat the cancer.

Interestingly, the two research team leaders are affiliated with the Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine. “Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in most countries, and in the U.S. alone, nearly 40,000 women lost their lives to it this past year,” said Sophie Lelièvre, DVM, PhD, associate professor of basic medical sciences in the veterinary school.

“We’ve known that the best way to detect this cancer early and treat it effectively would be to get inside the mammary ducts to evaluate and treat the cells directly, and this is the first step in that direction.”

Dr. Lelièvre is also associate director of discovery groups in the Purdue Center for Cancer Research and a leader of the international breast cancer and nutrition project in the Oncological Sciences Center. She was quoted in a Purdue news release.

The other team leader is James Leary, PhD, professor of nanomedicine and of basic medical sciences in the veterinary school and professor of biomedical engineering in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.

“Nanoparticles can be designed to latch on to cancer cells and illuminate them,” Dr. Leary said, “decreasing the size of a tumor that can be detected through mammography from 5 millimeters to 2 millimeters, which translates into finding the cancer 10 times earlier in its evolution.

“There also is great potential for nanoparticles to deliver anticancer agents directly to the cancer cells, eliminating the need for standard chemotherapy that circulates through the entire body, causing harmful side effects.”

The group’s work was funded by the U.S. Defense Department. An article detailing the research was published earlier this month in Integrative Biology.

Related seminar: Pittsburgh Breast Imaging Seminar

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