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Q&A: Mechanical engineer develops tool to take on breast cancer

October 4, 2019

Soojung Claire HurBreast cancer is deadliest when it metastasizes, or spreads to a distant part of the body. The five-year survival rate for patients with breast cancer that’s confined to the breast is 99%, according to the American Cancer Society, but that rate drops to just 27% once the cancer spreads.

Johns Hopkins mechanical engineer SJ Claire Hur is embarking on an effort to develop a microfluidics device that can collect and genetically modify tumor cells from the blood samples of metastatic breast cancer patients. These purified and modified cells will enable scientists to monitor the patient’s cancer progression in a lab, and to test and develop personalized treatment plans. These models may even eliminate the need for some cancer patients to undergo frequent invasive biopsies or surgeries, Hur said. She was recently awarded a $450,000 Career Catalyst Research Grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation to support her work.

“If we have an efficient way to culture collected circulating tumor cells in the lab, researchers can perform numerous biological experiments and functional tests directly on patient-derived tumor cells,” Hur said in an interview with the Department of Mechanical Engineering last month. “This will help identify the most effective therapeutic option for the patients.”

The Hub reached out to Hur for more information on this cell culture project and for insights into what mechanical engineering can bring to the field of cancer research.

Read the Q&A on The Hub >>

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