Topic: NCI Provocative Questions

Given the difficulty of studying metastasis, can we develop new approaches, such as engineered tissue grafts, to investigate the biology of tumor spread?

Background: Metastasis continues to be difficult to study. We have almost no reproducible systems to study this deadly process. Mouse tail vein injections of tumor cells often leads to tumor growth at various sites in a process that mimics metastasis to some degree. Some tumors in genetically engineered mouse models will metastasize, but the process is hard to stage or follow in any rigorous detail. This Provocative Question calls for the development of new approaches to study metastasis.

Feasibility: While the range of potential approaches to develop methods to study metastasis is left to the imagination and creativity of the community, one potential exciting approach is the construction of engineered tissue beds that could serve as sites for invasion of metastasizing tumor cells. Such sites could be modified to determine which physical or biological properties promote more successful invasive and subsequent tumor proliferation. Many parameters of metastasis could be measured if it were known when and where to follow this process, and such sites could allow more careful analysis of what events guide the development of metastasis. These types of suggestions also raise a large number of other potential approaches that might make the study of metastasis more controllable and thus more readily compared among tumor types and more readily modifiable.

Implications of success: In many ways, metastasis is the most important stage of tumor development. Developing new methods to allow its careful study would provide important new avenues to learning about this stage of tumor development.

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