Tracking the spread of cancer cells – Photon02

Not much is known about how clustered cancer cells move, but it is important to understand how individual cancer cells break off from a cluster and spread throughout the human body. A research collaboration between the University of Wales College of Medicine and Kingston University * has lead to the development of a computational imaging technique that tracks the movement of individual cancer cells within cell clusters.

Dr Hoppe, a member of the research team from Kingston University, will be speaking at the Photon02 Conference, in Cardiff on Monday 2 September. He will describe how the research team used a customised microscope fitted with modulation contrast filters to make it easier to see the edges of a single cell. Using the microscope, they studied individual cells within clusters of human colon cancer cells.

The position and velocity of the individual cells was tracked and recorded using a newly developed mathematical computer programme. The programme draws each cell`s boundary on the first digital image and then moves it to the new location in each consecutive image. This is done at a faster rate than was previously possible. Over a two hour period the studied cells were found to have an average speed of 16 micrometres per hour, one micrometre is one millionth of a metre.

Cancer cells usually appear in clusters and there is a suggestion that cell-to-cell adhesions may restrict their mobility. The adhesions are thought to restrict movement in clustered cell populations. Dr Hoppe`s quantitative analysis method for measuring cell movement in clustered cells may therefore help researchers work out how much effect the cell-to-cell adhesion has. This may ultimately provide information about preventing cancer cells from detaching and spreading.

* The research is a collaboration between the Metastasis Research Group, part of the College of Medicine, at the University of Wales and the Digital Imaging Research Centre at Kingston University.

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