These “smart fat cells” can detect otherwise invisible brain tumors

The Problem

  • We have a blood-brain barrier, which separates fluid around our brain from the blood that circulates around the rest of our body.
  • Only certain things can pass through the barrier (water, gases, glucose, amino acids and few other things). That makes it a semi-permeable membrane.
Passive transport = does not take energy to move the molecules. Passive-aggressive = being a jerk in a sneaky, sneaky way.
Passive transport = does not take energy to move the molecules. Passive-aggressive = being a jerk in a sneaky, sneaky way.
  • To find brain tumors, doctors inject people with a chemical that causes tumors to contrast, or “light up” on an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
  • BUT, the chemical can only pass through the blood-brain barrier when the tumor has gotten big enough to damage the barrier.
  • Patients with brain tumors can often survive the first brain tumor they get, but not the other, smaller tumors that reappear later, because the chemical used in MRI cannot detect them because they haven’t damaged the blood-brain barrier yet.
  • This is because the smaller secondary tumors are made up of cells that “survived” the first round of cancer treatment and spread to other parts of the brain.

The Study

  • Scientists at Penn State University put the MRI contrast chemical Magnevist inside of liposomes (a tiny sac of fatty substances commonly used to deliver drugs to cells).
  • The liposomes have proteins on them that attach to the cancer cells.
  • They called these liposomes “smart fat cells”.
  • The scientists injected the liposomes into mice.
  • They also injected the normal Magnevist contrast chemical into mice for comparison.
"Smart fat cells"-  like little zombies headed straight for brain tumors. Mmmmm.
“Smart fat cells”- like little zombies headed straight for brain tumors. Mmmmm.
  • They looked at the brains of the mice using MRI and looked at the images to see the difference between the brains of mice that had regular Magnevist injected in them and mice that had “smart fat cells” injected into them.

The Results

  • Scientists could see large tumors on the MRIs of both the mice injected with regular Magnevist and the mice injected with Magnevist-filled liposomes aka “smart fat cells”.
  • Only the MRIs of mice injected with “smart fat cells” showed small tumors, though. No small tumors could be seen on the MRIs of mice injected with just Magnevist.

The Takeaway

  • Scientists concluded that the new “smart fat cells” were able to cross the blood-brain barrier; something that regular Magnevist could not do unless the blood-brain barrier was damaged.
  • This could be a better alternative to finding small tumors than another method being used: ultrasound. Ultrasound disrupts the blood-brain barrier which could allow other harmful things to pass into the brain.
  • Scientists hope that these “smart fat cells” can also be used to deliver chemotherapy drugs along with the contrast chemicals so tumors can be found and destroyed all at once. In yo face, brain tumors!
Why aren't my fat cells that smart? They're all, nah, imma stick around, I kinda like it here. Derp.
Why aren’t my fat cells that smart? They’re all, nah, imma stick around, I kinda like it here. Derp.

 

Super Smart Science Suffix: Lipo = fat. As in liposome (literally “fat body”) or liposuction (literally “sucking the fat out of you/probably a bad idea”). HOORAY KNOWLEDGE!

Use your big, healthy brain and read some more about this promising new science here!:

Xiaoli Liu, Achuthamangalam B. Madhankumar, Patti A. Miller, Kari A. Duck, Susan Hafenstein, Elias Rizk, Becky Slagle-Webb, Jonas M. Sheehan, James R. Connor, and Qing X. Yang
MRI contrast agent for targeting glioma: interleukin-13 labeled liposome encapsulating gadolinium-DTPA
Neuro Oncology 2015 : nov263v1-nov263.

http://neuro-oncology.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2015/10/30/neuonc.nov263.short?rss=1

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-12/ps-fc121715.php

 

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Author: Emily

I started Rise and Sci because I love science, I love teaching people new things and I want to help build a greater public understanding of all things science. My goal is to take hard to understand concepts and make them accessible to everyone- all in a fun an interesting format!

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