More than two decades ago, when Elizabeth Turner was still a graduate student studying fossilized microbial reefs, she hammered out hundreds of lemon-sized rocks from weathered cliff faces in Canada’s Northwest Territories. She hauled her rocks back to the lab, sawed them into 30-micron-thick slivers—about half the diameter of human hair—and scrutinized her handiwork under a microscope. Only in about five of the translucent slices, she found a sea of slender squiggles that looked nothing like the microbes she was after.
Metastatic cancer, or a cancer that spreads to other parts of the body, causes more than 90 percent of cancer deaths. Doctors constantly monitor patients’ blood to make sure that cancer cells haven’t broken off from the original tumor and started spreading, but these cells are difficult to detect, making the tests inefficient. Now a team of researchers has developed a tiny implantable sponge that can soak up these cancer cells so that doctors can intervene before the cancer settles in, according to a study published yesterday inNature Communications.