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Cancer Cells Turned Into Logic Gates!

Researchers have developed a way to understand the spreading to cancer cells in human body by assuming it as an electric network.

In microfluidic devices like this, Bumsoo Han’s team observes how cancer cells behave in a simulated biological environment. Credit: Purdue University photo/Jared Pike

Researchers have been trying to understand how cancer cells can be stopped from spreading. The uncontrollable division of cells leads them to the surrounding tissues and this can occur anywhere in the body. We know that the tissue is a network of similar groups of cells; this is something similar to what we see in any electronic network. Current flows through the shortest path or the path that offers least resistance.

Researchers believe that as we understand an electrical network, we can also untangle the network of cancer. Purdue University researchers have reverse-engineered a cellular signal processing system and used it like a logic gate – a simple computer – to better understand what causes specific cells to migrate.

Professor Bumsoo Han and his research group have been studying cancer cells. He builds microfluidic structures to simulate their biological environment; he has even used these structures to build a “time machine” to reverse the growth of pancreatic cancer cells. Researchers have been trying to address the fundamental mechanisms behind how these cancer cells migrate. Cells are very complex systems of molecules, and they are exposed to multiple cues that cause them to move.

The team adopted a ternary logic gate model to analyze these cues, and predict how cells would move under different environments. Their experiments took place in a microfluidic platform with a center chamber for the cells, and two side platforms. Using this device, they could replicate fluidic flows in one direction, in the opposite direction, or no flow at all.

Hye-ran Moon, postdoctoral researcher on Han’s team, assigned values to which direction the cells moved under the two different stimuli. “If the cells moved in the direction of the flow, that’s 1,” said Moon. “If they have no directionality, that’s 0. If they move in the opposite direction to the flow, that’s -1.” When cells encountered either chemicals or fluid flow individually, they moved in the positive direction (the “1”). When both were present in the same direction, the effect was additive (still “1”). However, when the two flowed in opposite directions, the cells moved in the direction of the chemicals (the “-1”), rather than the fluid flow.

Based on these observations, Moon extrapolated a 3×3 grid to simplify the results. The cues of these cancer cells could now be diagrammed much like an electrical engineer would diagram a circuit. Researchers say that this model can apply to far more than just physical cancer cells and can help study and determine cellular behaviour.

Reference: “Cells function as a ternary logic gate to decide migration direction under integrated chemical and fluidic cues” by Hye-ran Moon, Soutick Saha, Andrew Mugler and Bumsoo Han, 16 December 2022, Lab on a Chip.
DOI: 10.1039/D2LC00807F

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