A new strategy to stop cancer: Kill the invaders

"Our finding changes how we think about cancer to some level," says study leader David Q. Matus. (Credit: Khuroshvili Ilya/Flickr)

Researchers are proposing a new strategy to treat metastatic cancer. The approach is based on the finding that cells in C. elegans, a roundworm nematode, cannot divide and invade at the same time.

Uncontrolled cell division is a hallmark of cancer. But researchers found that only when roundworm cells stop dividing can they become invasive. When cells become invasive, it is the most lethal to a host, as they are the cells that escape tumor tissue to travel and form new tumors.

“Our finding changes how we think about cancer to some level,” says study leader David Q. Matus, an assistant professor in biochemistry and cell biology at Stony Brook University. “While it will remain important to target dividing cells—as cancer is a disease of uncontrolled cell division—we need to figure out how to target non-dividing cells too since they are the invasive ones.”

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The team used cells from the worm’s developing uterus called anchor cells to illustrate the division/invasion process. The anchor cells have to invade through a cellular tissue membrane to contact the cells that become the worm’s egg-laying apparatus. Cancer cells operate in a similar manner when leaving one tissue to form another.

Matus says continued research with anchor cells and ongoing genetic analyses of them may further reveal just why they cannot divide and invade at the same time. The research could form the basis of an approach to testing cancer cells and the invasive process.

Other scientists from Stony Brook Univesity, Duke University, and the Imperial College of London collaborated on the study, which appears in the journal Developmental Cell.

The National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society funded the work.

Source: Stony Brook University