Micro-platform reveals natural behaviour of cancer cells

A new cell culture platform allows researchers to observe never-before-seen behaviour of live cancer cells under the microscope, leading to explanations of long-known cancer characteristics.

The easy-to-produce platform developed by Hokkaido University researchers offers cancer cells micro-scale attachment sites that elicit never-before-seen behaviours highly relevant to cancer's clinical properties. The observation shed light on the mechanisms behind well-known properties of pancreatic cancer, one of the most lethal malignant tumours, and may lead to the identification of new treatment targets.

The researchers created a new cell culture substrate from a coated glass slide with etched islands of 30 µm diameter. For healthy cells, this is just enough space for one or two to attach. But when the researchers seeded them with pancreatic cancer cells (and other tumour cells) and incubated them overnight, the cells self-organised into micro-tumours (pictured) that could move in a concerted way, as if it were one organism. Precursors to this turned out to be papillary structures that accommodate four or more cells by cell-in-cell invasion. This process, called entosis, is so far known only as a step in cell degradation, but in this study the incorporated cells remained alive and the incorporation was reversible.