In a new tactic in the fight against cancer, Cornell researcher Michael
King has developed what he calls a lethal "lint brush" for the blood --
a tiny, implantable device that captures and kills cancer cells in the
bloodstream before they spread through the body.
King used selectin molecules -- proteins that move to the surface of blood vessels in response to infection or injury. Selectin molecules normally recruit white blood cells (leukocytes) which "roll" along their surfaces and create an inflammatory response -- but they also attract cancer cells, which can mimic the adhesion and rolling process. Once the cancer cells adhered to the selectin on the microtube's surface, King exposed them to a protein called TRAIL (for Tumor Necrosis Factor Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand), which binds to two so-called "death receptors" on the cancer cells' surface, setting in motion a process that causes the cell to self-destruct.