Your blood vessels aren’t necessarily the nice, smooth, gentile environment you think it is. As blood gets pumped through the tiny tubes, laws of fluid dynamics dictate that the blood doesn’t pass through uniformly. Instead, friction keeps the liquid by the vessel walls traveling more slowly, creating pressure gradients, vortexes and a host of other intricate, detailed movements. All of this creates shearing stresses on the cells within, which sometimes add up to more than a cell can handle.
Now, take that flow of liquid and pass it through the tip of a syringe at short, high-speed pulses and do it multiple times. The environment becomes even more inhospitable to cells travelling in the blood, effectively shredding most all them.
That is, except, for the malignant cancerous ones.
This is the finding that surprisingly came out of a recent study from the University of Iowa. Researchers there discovered that after passing blood samples through a syringe needle in a series of millisecond pules of high fluid shear stress, nearly half of the malignant cancer blood cells survived, while most of the healthy and benign cancer cells were destroyed. What’s more, the rate at which the malignant cancer cells survived increased greatly after a few trials, indicating that they were somehow responding to the stresses by toughing themselves up for the ride.
On one hand, this isn’t exactly great news. It is the malignant cancer cells that are responsible for spreading cancer throughout the body and greatly diminishing a patient’s chance of survival. On the other hand, it provides the basis for potential new diagnostics to determine what’s going on inside of a person suffering from cancer. If, for example, a doctor could simply draw some blood and pass it through the ringer in order to determine the presence and number of malignant cells pulsing through a person’s veins, it would be a much easier test for the patient that cutting them open and taking biopsies of new and old tumor growths.
The scientist who discovered this result was a graduate student at the time conducting an unrelated study, who has now used the results to procure his own research funding. The next step is to translate the findings into patient specimens and determine whether it can be useful in a context that is clinically meaningful, like determining whether a cancer is progressing or if it may respond to a particular therapy.
The study “Resistance to Fluid Shear Stress Is a Conserved Biophysical Property of Malignant Cells” was published in PLoS ONE by Michael Henry, associate professor of molecular physiology and biophysics at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.