Metastasis, the spreading of cancer cells to other parts of the body, contributes to 9 out of 10 cancer-related deaths. However, the intricate mechanisms triggering this process remain a mystery. 3DSecret is on a mission to change that. The European consortium 3DSecret, coordinated by INL researchers from the Medical Devices research group, is approaching metastasis in a new way, focusing on single cells and aiming to uncover hidden patterns that can predict and forecast how cancer spreads.

“By studying individual circulating tumour cells, or CTCs, 3DSecret hopes to transform how cancer is diagnosed and/or treated, making significant strides in clinical sciences”, says Miguel Xavier, technical coordinator of the 3DSecret project.

In response to this challenge, 3DSecret has outlined specific objectives. At the forefront is the development of the ‘3Dsecret-chip,’ a sophisticated tool designed to facilitate the controlled creation of 3D cancer cell models from individual cells. This innovative approach promises reproducibility and precision, enhancing one’s ability to examine the details of cancer cell behaviour.

Furthermore, 3DSecret is incorporating ‘SERS metabolomics profiling’, an advanced technology providing continuous insights into the growth kinetics of these 3D cancer cell models. Sara Abalde-Cela, leader of the Medical Devices research group and coordinator of the 3DSecret project, explains that “this dynamic monitoring is crucial for capturing the evolving nuances of the metastatic process at the single-cell level in a controlled environment during proliferation stages”.

3DSecret also aims to establish robust procedures for the comprehensive analysis of the genes and molecules within 3D models derived from cell lines. The comprehensive investigation involves obtaining 3D models directly from patients’ CTCs, to guarantee relevance and practical application.

The ultimate aim of 3DSecret extends beyond technological innovation – it seeks to decode metastatic patterns by integrating –omics results with artificial intelligence. Sara Abalde-Cela adds “further, we will show the power of plasmonics and spectroscopy to shed light over fundamental biological questions”. Each ‘omic’ field will focus on the analysis and understanding of specific aspects of metastasis, providing valuable insights into the complexities of cancer. The convergence of cutting-edge technologies and intelligent computing is a combined effort to decode the intricate complexities in the evolution of metastasis.

3DSecret’s mission is to thoroughly analyse single cancer cells, uncovering hidden secrets that not only hold the promise of transforming our understanding of cancer, but could also lead to ground-breaking advances in medical sciences.

Text by: Catarina Moura, Science Communication Officer
Photography by: Gina Palha, Communication, Conferences & Marketing Officer