Researchers at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York claim that they were able to keep a mouse alive for 21 days with the tiny piece of glass in place, and that they could watch during that period cells from a breast tumour as they spread to other tissues.
A report in the journal Nature Methods suggests that the cutting-edge research offers new opportunities to study the complex relationship between cancer cells and their surrounding tissue.
The poorly understood process whereby bits a tumour break away and travel to other parts of the body is called metastasis.
This is partly because it is impossible to watch metastasis in action. The behaviour of cancer cells in a laboratory dish may be radically different from their behaviour in living tissue.
Describing their method of viewing metastasis in the body, the researchers revealed that it involved the insertion of a glass "coverslip", which let the cancer cells observed with the "micro-environment" surrounding the tumour kept intact.
The resarcher further revealed that their process also involved marking the cancer cells with substances, which allowed their movements to be tracked under the microscope.
"Tackling metastasis remains one of the biggest challenges in successfully treating cancer, but it's also one of the most difficult elements of cancer to study in the laboratory," the BBC quoted Dr. Joanna Peak, Cancer Research UK's science information officer, as saying.
"This cutting-edge research provides new opportunities to study the complex relationship between cancer cells and their surrounding tissue-to help us understand metastasis in more detail," Peak added.