MAR 10, 2017 8:57 AM PST

How Cells Get Reprogrammed to Spread Cancer

The circulatory system in the body is what carries oxygen to muscles, nutrients to organs, and works to essentially get everything where it needs to be. The problem is that it might be too good at spreading things around. Cancer is an example of something that should not be flowing all through the body, but it turns out that blood vessels are a big part of how cancer spreads.
 
Within blood vessels there are cells that make up the lining. These cells are called endothelial cells and because tumors need blood flow to grow, these endothelial cells come into close contact with cancer cells. New research from the Helmholtz University Junior Research Group at the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) and the Medical Faculty Mannheim of Heidelberg University shows that this close proximity is spurring a process that allows cancer to spread rapidly.
 
The team of scientists found high levels of the activated form of a signaling molecule called Notch in blood vessels of tumors. In the blood vessel lining cells from lung, breast and bowel tumors, they found significantly higher levels of the activated receptor than they did in the tissue that was not cancerous. The ratio that the team observed was that higher levels of Notch activation in tumor endothelial cells corresponded to a great amount of cancer spread. Sadly, for patients, once cancer goes on the move in the body, the chance of a positive outcome goes down.
 
The Notch pathway is a well-known mechanism for cells that are near to each other to communicate. It’s crucial in the development of organs in embryos and in adults the Notch signaling pathway regulates the activity of important stem cells in the blood. Previous cancer research has suggested that when Notch signaling goes awry, cancer can develop. The most recent research is the first time that Notch activity has been shown to ramp up the spread of cancer from inside the cellular environment of a tumor.
 
The study demonstrated that in mice, the tumor cells actually reprogram the vascular wall cells. By doing this, the cancer cells have essentially breached a safety barrier. When Notch is activated this way, at a higher level, it’s as if cancer cells are being give a free ride through the blood stream to hasten the spread of disease. This leads to metastasis, and in lung cancer, once the cells begin to migrate to other parts of the body, the disease becomes more difficult to treat and patients are at a higher risk.
 
This disrupted signaling wasn’t only in the blood vessels of the tumor either. Researchers found it happening in the endothelial cells of healthy lung tissue as well. Andreas Fischer, a medical researcher at the university stated, “Taken together, the results show a very clear picture: The tumor cells promote their spread in the body in multiple ways by activating Notch and thus reprogramming endothelial cells for their own purposes. We therefore wanted to find out if we could interrupt this disastrous mechanism. Notch is a universal signaling molecule and this makes it difficult to exert therapeutic influence on it without interfering with vital processes. But a targeted short-time use of blocking antibodies might be a promising approach for suppressing the dangerous spread of tumors. This is what we aim to explore in our further research.” Check out the video below for more information on this cellular process that plays a role in the spread of cancer.
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
DEC 01, 2019
Cancer
DEC 01, 2019
At-home urine test detects prostate cancer
Peeing on a stick may not just be for pregnancy-detection anymore – an at-home urine test could also detect prostate cancer in the near future. New r...
DEC 18, 2019
Cancer
DEC 18, 2019
Looking to this tropical plant for future pancreatic cancer treatments
Pancreatic cancer is a dangerous disease for two reasons: its stealth and its resistance to many anti-cancer drugs. The American Cancer Society estimates t...
JAN 20, 2020
Neuroscience
JAN 20, 2020
Ovarian Cancer Protein Accelerates Alzheimer's Neurodegeneration
Around 21,000 people in the US are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, while an estimated 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. Now, research...
FEB 02, 2020
Cancer
FEB 02, 2020
These cosmetics damage breast cells' DNA
A new approach to studying the effects of two common chemicals used in cosmetics and sunscreens found they can cause DNA damage in breast cells at surprisi...
FEB 14, 2020
Immunology
FEB 14, 2020
Rewired natural killer cells show promising results in leukemia patients
Natural killer (NK) cells are a subset of white blood cells that are key players in the innate immune system, orchestrating host-rejection responses agains...
FEB 10, 2020
Cancer
FEB 10, 2020
New hope for KRAS-mutant pancreatic cancers
A study published recently in the journal Cancer Research showcases the findings from new research on pancreatic cancer. The study was led by Frank Mc...
Loading Comments...