Breast cancer will afflict one of every eight American women in her lifetime and is second only to lung cancer in cancer deaths among women in the U.S. Campaigns to raise awareness of breast cancer, stressing the benefits of early detection, and medical advances in treatment and prevention have succeeded in reducing the breast cancer death rate over the past five years. Advanced, metastatic disease in which cancer cells have spread beyond the confines of the breast pose the most deadly form of the disease and is the focus of many research efforts. How do cancer cells move from their tissue of origin? Remodeling of cytoskeletal proteins occurs in cancer cells and can be compared to rearranging beams and cross-beams in bridges. Our main hypothesis is that the stiffness and viscosity of normal and metastatic breast cells differ, and we postulate these changes help cancer cells to metastasize or move.
We are investigating ways to separate metastatic breast cancer and normal cells using specially engineered microenvironments for cell growth. Silicon microchips are etched to produce fluidic channels, smooth and ridged planar surfaces, and circular smooth or etched concavities with dimensions of 35-200 microns. These microstructure arrays pose physical challenges to cell attachment and spreading. Metastatic breast cancer cells and normal fibroblast cells behave differently in the microenvironments, and now we are using microengineering to refine the chip design and optimize the separation of normal and metastatic breast cancer cells. This technology can be applied to the development of microchip systems for early detection of metastatic breast cancer cells and screening platforms to identify drugs that suppress metastatic behavior in cancer cells.
Jeannine Strobl, Ph.D.
Jeannine Strobl is Professor and Chair of Pharmacology at the Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia. She received her Ph.D. in pharmacology from George Washington University.
Prior to her tenure at VCOM, she was a professor and researcher in pharmacology at West Virginia University School of Medicine.
Her current research interest involves breast cancer drug discovery.