Researchers Find Link Between Death of Tumor-Support Cells, Cancer Metastasis
Researchers have discovered that eliminating cells thought to aid tumor growth did not slow or halt the growth of cancer tumors. In fact, when the cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) were eliminated after 10 days, the risk of metastasis of the primary tumor to the lungs and bones of mice increased dramatically. Scientists used bioengineered CAFs equipped with genes that caused those cells to self-destruct at defined moments in tumor progression. The study, published in Scientific Reports Feb. 19, was conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers funded by NIBIB.
What causes cancer to grow and metastasize is not well understood by scientists. CAFs are thought to be fibroblast cells native to the body that cancer cells hijack and use to sustain their growth. However, because fibroblasts are found throughout the human body, it can be difficult to follow and study cancer effects on these cells.
“This work underscores two important things in solving the puzzle that is cancer,” said Dr. Rosemarie Hunziker, program director for tissue engineering at NIBIB. “First, we are dealing with a complex disease with so many dimensions that we are really only just beginning to describe it. Second, this approach shows the power of cell engineering—manipulating a key cell in the cancer environment has led to a significant new understanding of how cancer grows and how it might be controlled in the future.”