U of Utah research hopes to stop cancer spread using engineered blood platelets

University of Utah researcher Tara Deans is developing a method that could help stop the spread of cancer by using specially-engineered blood platelets to seek and destroy tumor cells in the bloodstream, the university reports.
Deans, a biomedical engineering assistant professor and a BMES member, received this year's National Institutes of Health Director's New Innovator Award and a $1.5 million grant to develop the method, according to the article.

Metastasis can occur when some cancer cells, called circulating tumor cells, break off from the main tumor site and begin to spread to other parts of the body, it states. Once in the bloodstream, it's difficult to stop them from spreading, in part because these cells attract blood platelets to form a protective cloak that helps them avoid detection.

With the five-year NIH grant, Deans and her team will engineer alternative platelets in the lab that can help stop the tumor cells from entering new sites throughout the body.

The core of Deans' lab involves synthetic biology, the science of designing and building new biological parts and systems to control cell behavior, according to the article. This is done by engineering gene circuits to program cells with unique functions. Deans will use these gene circuits to control stem cells to become platelets.

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