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Liping Tang

Novel system shows promise in detecting and treating cancer

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The numbers are alarming. The National Cancer Institute estimates that almost half the country’s male population will have some form of cancer, as will about one in three women. Though survival rates continue to improve, almost 35 percent of Americans diagnosed with cancer will die within five years.

A UT Arlington bioengineering researcher aims to improve those statistics. Professor Liping Tang, above, has signed on as warrior against cancer, striving to develop more effective techniques to diagnose and combat the disease.

From his state-of-the-art laboratory in the Engineering Research Building, Tang examines a collection of special laboratory mice. They’re still alive months after being given a form of cancer that typically leads to death in about a month.

Each has been injected with a bioengineered, bone marrow-mimicking “trap” that attracts wayward cancer cells that would otherwise establish tumors elsewhere. Indeed, the mice without the traps have already died, most in fewer than five weeks.

The test animals survive 25 percent longer with the implant trap alone,” Tang notes. “That’s without any other treatment whatsoever. Humans, of course, do receive treatment, which means that the trap has potential to both extend life or to help cure the disease entirely.”

Cancer often kills by spreading, with cells migrating from an original tumor to other places in the body.

Once that happens, the cancer can be hard to treat because it can be everywhere,” Tang says. “But some parts of the body have more attraction for migrating cells than others. Often we can’t stop the migration. But if we can get those migrating cells to one spot, we will have a better chance to treat the cancer there and also to prevent it from spreading.”

Bone marrow particularly attracts these potentially deadly agents. Tang’s research focuses on bioengineering a bone marrow replicant enhanced with one or more protein attractors that draw in cancer cells—for reasons not yet fully understood—like bees pulled to pollen.

It’s a two-step process. First the stem cell marrow mimicking is injected into the body. That’s the trap. Once researchers identify the factors that attract cancer cells to bone marrow (proteins that migrating cancer cells can sense), they can enhance the attraction.

Cancer that develops in the trap can be treated conventionally with radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery, and it’s far easier to treat a single site than multiple ones.

So far this is looking like a pretty good strategy,” Tang says.


Source: UT Arlington Magazine