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Caught in a trap

Caught in a trap

Almost half the men and one-third of the women in the United States will develop some form of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Bioengineering Professor Liping Tang is trying to improve those statistics. He recently received funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas to create a “trap” to attract cancer cells and prevent them from doing further harm.

How does your trap work?

It’s a decoy of sorts—we’re tricking the body. First we engineer tissue scaffolds to mimic bone marrow inside the patient’s body. That’s the trap. It then attracts wayward cancer cells, thus preventing them from establishing tumors elsewhere in the body.

Why bone marrow?

We’re not sure why, but the tissue particularly attracts the deadly metastatic cancer cells. Cancer often lodges in bone marrow before spreading to other parts of the body.

Why trap cancer cells instead of just treating them where they are?

Cancer often kills by spreading, with cells migrating from an original tumor to other places in the body. That makes it difficult to treat, because the cancer can be everywhere. If we can get those migrating cells to one spot, we can kill them with chemotherapy agents and other treatments more easily and with fewer side effects. We also have a better chance to prevent the cancer from spreading.

Have the traps been used in human patients yet?

No. So far, we’ve just injected the traps into lab mice that have been given a form of melanoma cancer that typically leads to death in about a month. The treatment has proven effective: The test animals survive 25 percent longer than those without the traps. That’s without any other treatment whatsoever. For humans the trap would be used in conjunction with traditional cancer therapy, so it has the potential to extend life or help cure the disease entirely.