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Breast implant with nanoscale "bed-of-nails" surface shown to deter cancer cells

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March 24, 2012

An uneven “bed of nails” surface helps prevent cancerous cells from gathering the nutrient...

An uneven “bed of nails” surface helps prevent cancerous cells from gathering the nutrients they need to flourish (Image: Webster Lab/Brown University)

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It's a sad reality of our time that breast cancer affects more women around the world than any other form of cancer. Even more disturbing is the fact that up to ten years after surgery, the cancer returns in nearly 20 percent of those deemed to have had successful tumor-removal operations. Now, researchers at Brown University (BU) in Providence, Rhode Island, led by engineering professor Thomas Webster, have developed an implant which they believe can appreciably lower that relapse rate by simultaneously inhibiting cancer cell growth and attracting healthy breast cells.

“We’ve created an (implant) surface with features that can at least decrease (cancerous) cell functions without having to use chemotherapeutics, radiation, or other processes to kill cancer cells,” Webster said. “It’s a surface that’s hospitable to healthy breast cells and less so for cancerous breast cells.”

It's been known for some time that cancer cells respond differently to smooth and structured surfaces at the nanoscale level. The BU team explored this property further by engineering implant surfaces with regularly-spaced microscopic "nails" composed of 23-nanometer diameter beads of polystyrene combined with biodegradable PLGA (polylactic-co-glycolic acid), an FDA-approved polymer in common use for products such as self-dissolving stitches.

Molecular structure of a repeating unit of polylactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA)
Molecular structure of a repeating unit of polylactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA)

As described in the study, subsequent lab tests with this modified, "bed-of-nails" surface showed that endothelial breast-cancer cells produced 15-percent less VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) This is a key signal protein needed for angiogenesis – the production of new blood vessels – essential for tumor growth. Evidently, the stiff, malignant cells can't adapt to the bumpy surface well enough to get the nutrients they need.

As an added bonus, Webster and his team noticed a 15-percent increase in healthy breast tissue cells compared to cultures raised on a normal, smooth-surfaced implant. That's potentially great news for the countless thousands of women destined to receive implants in the wake of invasive breast cancer surgery.

Source: Brown University

More about cancer and angiogenesis

We like to think our cancer awareness extends equally to prevention as well as remediation, but the reality is that far more research is spent looking at dealing with tumors once they've arrived than halting their occurrence in the first place. Common sense dictates that we also examine the causes of the various forms of malignancies that plague us, but too often, the warning signs from everyday causes of cancer go unheeded.

We know full well that carcinogenic substances abound in our daily lives, but even agencies such as the American Cancer Society remain strangely mute when it comes to warning of the dangers lurking in such seemingly innocuous items as sunscreens, cosmetics, body care products, dryer vent exhaust, tap water and even the foods we eat. When you face the specter of malignant tumor formation, an ounce of prevention is worth more like several tons of cure.

Fortunately, exciting recent research has revealed a simple dietary approach that, when coupled with common sense avoidance of known carcinogens, can make a huge difference in overall risk and eventual outcome should one contract one of the many forms of cancer.

As mentioned earlier, tumors need to grow new blood vessels in order to survive and expand. Oncologists eventually discovered a compound called angiostatin that prevents the process of angiogenesis (new blood vessel growth) from taking place. Then they discovered that many of the foods we commonly eat contain chemicals that mimic the action of angiostatin. The results of those findings form the foundation of what is now known as the Anti-angiogenic Diet, a tasty, effective ounce of prevention eating-approach everyone should know about.

Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein key to angiogenesis
Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein key to angiogenesis

If you pay close attention to the list of anti-angiogenic foods that follows, you might detect a few interesting patterns. For instance, you'll notice that berries and items common to the much-touted Mediterranean diet are major players in blocking blood-vessel formation. There's also a hint at why the French Paradox (high-fat foods from grass-fed animals, lots of red wine, little cardiovascular disease and obesity) is a proven reality: fat cells, too, need new blood vessels to deliver nutrients (and fat!) as they grow and expand, so reducing angiogenesis makes it harder to put on weight.

Many of the foods below also contain potent anti-oxidants such as vitamin C and various plant pigments, including lycopene, which can help thwart inflammation. It's been shown that eating cooked tomatoes just a few times weekly, for instance, can translate into a 30-50% reduced risk of prostate cancer in men. The overall effect appears to magnify when many foods on the list are eaten together - great news for pasta sauce lovers (easy on the pasta, though - starches promote inflammation and weight gain). It goes without saying that organic is best when choosing these foods, each of which can be a potential powerhouse in your tumor-busting arsenal.

Molecular structure of resveratrol, found in red wine
Molecular structure of resveratrol, found in red wine

Enough preamble - here's the list of anti-angiogenic foods that, if personally well-tolerated, could play a helpful role in everyone's eating regimen (in moderation, of course):

Apple
Artichoke
Blackberry
Blueberry
Bok Choy
Cherry (the tart variety is especially potent)
Dark Chocolate (70% cacao or higher - the less sucrose, the better)
Garlic
Ginseng
Grapefruit
Grape Seed
Green Tea
Lavender
Lemon
Licorice
Maitake mushroom
Nutmeg
Olive Oil (extra virgin)
Orange
Parsley
Pineapple
Pumpkin
Raspberry
Red grape
Red wine (resveratrol can help counter ill-effects from high fat diets)
Sea Cucumber (a sea creature related to sea stars and sea urchins)
Strawberry
Tomato (especially cooked - rich in lycopene)
Tuna (mercury could offset the benefits, so eat sparingly)
Turmeric (rich in curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory)

About the Author
Randolph Jonsson A native San Franciscan, Randolph attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland before finding his way to the film business. Eventually, he landed a job at George Lucas' Industrial Light + Magic, where he worked on many top-grossing films in both the camera and computer graphics departments. A proud member of MENSA, he's passionate about technology, optimal health, photography, marine biology, writing, world travel and the occasional, well-crafted gin and tonic!   All articles by Randolph Jonsson
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