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December 20, 2016

Tumor cells don't have the same moves as healthy cells, Drexel study finds

Biology Cancer
122016_Fibrosarcoma Source/AP

Fibrosarcoma of a human.

Cell biologists at Drexel University have determined that the movement of some tumor cells differs in a potentially treatable way from the movement of normal connective tissue cells. 

A study published in the current issue of the "Journal of Cell Biology" examines the importance of identifying differences in cell behavior because it helps explain the deadly movement of various types of cancer, DrexelNOW reports. 

Researchers focused specifically on the movement of fibrosarcoma cells, which aggressively fuel the spread of malignant bone and soft tissue tumors. In tight, three-dimensional spaces, most normal cells tend to reposition their bulky nuclei so that they can gain smooth passage through imposing structures.  

Fibrosarcoma cells in the same environments cannot perform this shapeshifting technique to squeeze through tight spaces, researchers found. This was particularly true in the presence of certain peptide-forming protease enzymes. The inflexibility of these cells, sampled from rat tails and cow skin collagen, means that tumors end up tearing through opposing structures and leaving behind conditions that speed the growth of additional tumors. 

“Cell migration is a lethal characteristic of metastatic tumors, where malignant cells begin to move inappropriately and spread through the body to form secondary tumors,” said lead researcher Ryan Petrie, an assistant professor in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences. “To fully understand the mechanisms which drive normal and pathological cell movement, we must study cell migration in three-dimensional environments, such as the ones found in our tissues.”

Petrie said the discovery could lead to a preventive method that blocks the inappropriate movement of metastatic tumor cells. In combination with chemotherapy, this might help increase patient survival. 

Researchers aren't certain why these cell types have different capabilities in their movement, but they suspect it has something to do with the signal pathways between cells. If these can be therapeutically altered using precision-based drugs, it's possible doctors can exercise greater control over cell movement and growth. 

The importance of the finding goes beyond treating cancer, Petrie added, because applying similar principles could help with other medical conditions. 

“Promoting movement of fibroblasts in specific three-dimensional tissues like dermis [skin] and cartilage could help to heal difficult-to-treat wounds,” Petrie explained. “Understanding the fundamental molecular mechanisms driving the movement of these cell types will be essential for designing rational therapeutic strategies in the future.”

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