A metastatic star


Shaping cancer cells offers clues to hunting them down in the body.


A metastatic cancer cell induced to grow into a star shape.
A metastatic cancer cell induced to grow into a star shape.
Bartosz Grzybowski / National Cancer Institute / National Institutes of Health

Scientists studying the ways in which cancer cells migrate from existing tumours to create new, metastatic tumours in different regions of the body created the image above.

By creating micrometre-scaled adhesive islands on gold surfaces, reserachers allowed individual metastatic cells to take on shapes, such as the star depicted above.

These shapes provide cues to cancer cells, which respond in the above image by concentrating their motility machinery at the star’s tips. This test lends itself to large scale screening of cell populations—a problem that has stymied past efforts to find a drug that targets metastatic motility.

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