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By Think-pink (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Think-pink (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Thousands of people participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Grand Rapids earlier this month. Despite the rain, participants walked and ran in honor of those who have lost their lives to breast cancer, and in celebration of those who have survived. Proceeds from the race are used to fund lifesaving programs and research in Michigan.

Meanwhile, about two hours away in Ann Arbor, a study was published by the University of Michigan, reporting on the early success of a new device that can improve breast cancer survival by catching the cancer cells before they spread.

This small “scaffold” device, which is implanted under the skin, slows down the development of metastatic tumors, buying time for surgery and other therapies to intervene.

“This study shows that in the metastatic setting, early detection combined with a therapeutic intervention can improve outcomes,” said study author Lonnie D. Shea, Ph.D.

The scaffold, which was tested on mice, is made of FDA-approved biodegradable material commonly used for wound dressings. It is designed to mimic the environment found in organs before the cancer cells spread there. The scaffold works by attracting immune cells, which draw in the cancer cells.

“Typically, immune cells initially colonize a metastatic site and then pave the way for cancer cells to spread to that organ. Our results suggest that bringing immune cells into the scaffold limits the ability of those immune cells to prepare metastatic sites for the cancer cells,” said Shea.

In the mice, five days after tumor initiation, researchers discovered a significant percentage of tumor cells in the scaffold, but none in the lung, liver, or brain. After 15 days, they found 75% fewer cancer cells in the brains of the mice with scaffolds compared to those without the implantation. Ultimately, the study revealed that the presence of the scaffold slowed down the progression of the disease.

Authors of the study emphasized that the device is not a cure, but rather, an early detection and treatment method. About one in eight women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, and researchers hope to use the device to monitor for cancer in these women who are at high risk because of genetics.

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