Xiaolei’s Project: Preventative Medicine After Surgery (Synthetic Human project 3.1)

Thank you to Brighter Days Childhood Cancer Organization for generously funding Xiaolei’s project which is described below!

The project explores how surgeons might use a new variety of medicines to prevent tumors from coming back after surgery. The approach would be to “paint” a medicine as a hydrogel onto the area where the tumor was taken out. The medicine would stop floating residual tumor cells from taking root, either because the medicine affects the tumor cells or because the medicine affects the normal tissue to make it less receptive to tumor cells taking root. In other words, the medicines might treat the seed (tumor), the soil (tumor bed) or both.

This project involves creating glowing green miniature muscles in a tiny petri dishes, adding medicines, then adding glowing red tumor cells. To this project, we recruited an orthopedic surgeon physician-scientist trainee, Dr. Xiaolei Lian, from my colleagues’ laboratory at Zhengzhou University, China. Xiaolei is very bright, but also very dedicated. 

Xiaolei is making early progress: he has established the conditions for growing normal muscle cells in organized sheets (tissue engineering), and he is making these muscle cells glow. The latter process is a long one because it involves selecting just glowing cells after the genetic engineering event, and normal cells grow slower than cancer cells. Xiaolei knew this – hence he started early. We’re almost there. The next step will be to combine cells. Xiaolei is piloting the technique, which involves using a confocal (laser) microscope to view tumor cells invading from the top layer into the bottom muscle cell layer of the co-culture. We expect this to take several steps to optimize.

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