The long, thin protrusions that help cancer cells to move are called filopodia. They are an extension of a set of "broad, sheet-like" fibers called lamellipodia, which can be found around the edges of the cell.
The suffix "-podia" (or "-podium," singular) comes from the Greek language and means "something footlike."
Essentially, lamellipodia and filopodia are tiny "legs" that help healthy cells to move within the tissue. But in cancerous cells, lamellipodia and filopodia are produced in excess.
The researchers used so-called nanorods, made of gold nanoparticles, to obstruct these tiny legs.
With the help of nanotechnology, scientists are able to reduce the size of certain materials to a nanoscale - with "nano" meaning the billionth part of a meter - at which point these materials start to show new chemical and physical properties.
Prof. El-Sayed and colleagues introduced the nanorods locally. The nanorods were covered with a coating of molecules, called RGD peptides, that made them attach to a specific kind of protein called integrin.
"The targeted nanorods tied up the integrin and blocked its functions, so it could not keep guiding the cytoskeleton to overproduce lamellipodia and filopodia," explains co-author Yan Tang, a postdoctoral assistant in computational biology.
A cytoskeleton is the support structure of a cell, responsible for giving it a shape. It also has additional functions, with one of them being to form the filopodia protrusions.
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