Predicting and Treating Metastatic Breast Cancer

The Challenge

To prevent breast cancer from spreading to other organs (metastasizing).

The Innovation/Technology

A biomaterial screening tool to identify how cell-tissue interactions direct metastasis and reveal novel tissue-specific therapeutics to prevent metastasis.

The Impact

New predictive markers of cancer metastasis; new targets and therapeutic strategies for metastatic breast cancer.

The Solution

Ninety percent of breast cancer deaths result from complications related to metastasis specifically to the brain, lungs, bone and liver. With support from the NIH, including a 2013 $2.4 million grant, Shelly Peyton, is beginning to understand the mechanisms by which cancer spreads so selectively, an approach that may lead to new therapeutic strategies to prevent metastatic disease progression.

The lab’s hypothesis is that breast cancer cells secrete signals activating stem cells in specific tissues to create a favorable microenvironment for metastasis, before shed tumor cells arrive. Normally, these tissue specific stem cells are activated to repair tissue in response to injury or inflammation. The Peyton lab’s approach involves bioengineering authentic bone, lung, and brain tissue replicas and then introducing breast cancer cells to test their interactions. They recently created a biomaterial platform with systematic control over the extracellular matrix (ECM) protein density and composition at the bone, brain, and lung, to determine if integrin binding governs how metastatic cells differentiate between these secondary tissue sites. Instead of examining individual behaviors, they compiled large patterns of phenotypes associated with adhesion to and migration on these controlled ECMs. In combining this novel analysis with a simple biomaterial platform, they created an in vitro fingerprint that is predictive of in vivo metastasis.

In collaboration with industry, the lab plans to develop these biomaterial microenvironments into clinical diagnostics for short-term metastatic risk, chemotherapeutic response prediction, and long-term metastatic recurrence risk.

By understanding how cells and materials communicate, and how cells communicate with each other in different material environments, her lab may identify signaling molecules linked to metastasis that can serve as diagnostic markers and new therapeutic targets.

Contact Info

Shelly Peyton, Chemical Engineering