A team of scientists has developed a way to coax tumor cells in the lab to grow into 3-D spheres. Their discovery takes advantage of an earlier technique of producing spherical cavities in a common polymer and promises more accurate tests of new cancer therapies.
As team leader Michael R. King, Ph.D., of Cornell University explains, “Sometimes engineering research tends to be a case of a hammer looking for a nail. We knew our previous discovery was new and it was cool. And now we know it’s useful.”
Three years ago, the team—in collaboration with Lisa DeLouise, Ph.D., MPD, of Rochester, N.Y.—perfected a low-cost, easy fabrication technique to make spherical cavities in PDMS (polydimethylsiloxane), a widely used silicon organic polymer. More recently, the Cornell team discovered that these cavities could be used as a scaffolding to grow numerous tumor spheroids, which could serve as realistic models for cancer cells. The Cornell team’s work appears in the current issue of Biomicrofluidics, a publication of the American Institute of Physics.
A new study may explain why only 50% of patients experiencing chronic nerve pain achieve even partial relief from existing therapeutics. The study, published in the June 6 online version of the international research journal PAIN, reveals that certain types of chronic pain may be caused by signals from the skin itself, rather than damage to nerves within the skin, as previously thought.
A Medical Mystery
For years, researchers have known that increased amounts of a molecule called Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide (CGRP) is found in the skin of chronic pain patients. The source of the increased CGRP was thought to be certain types of sensory nerve fibers in the skin that normally make and release a type or “isoform” called CGRP-alpha. Curiously, however, the authors of the current study found that nerve fibers containing CGRP-alpha are actually reduced under painful conditions – leading them to investigate where the increased CGRP in the skin came from.
The answer, surprisingly, was that the skin cells themselves generate increased amounts of a lesser-known “beta” isoform of CGRP. This skin cell-derived CGRP-beta is increased in painful conditions and may be sending pain signals to remaining sensory nerve fibers in the skin. The discovery of CGRP-beta as a therapeutic target presents a potentially important new treatment approach.