Yale University researchers have shed new light on how cancer spreads from one part of the body to another; a process called as metastasis.
The team of researchers led by John Pawelek, from the Department of Dermatology at Yale School of Medicine and at Yale Cancer Centre found that fusion of a cancer cell with a white blood cell in the original tumour triggers cancer progression throughout the body.
Various studies conducted over a period of 15 years discovered that the newly formed hybrid of the cancer cell and white blood cell become accustomed to the white blood cell's ability to move throughout the body, while going through the uncontrolled cell division of the original cancer cell.
This leads to emergence of metastatic cell which migrates through tissue, enter the circulatory system and move to other organs.
"This is a unifying explanation for metastasis," Nature quoted Pawelek, as saying.
Pawelek along with his team including Ashok K. Chakraborty and other Yale researchers focussed their study on fusion of white blood cells and tumour cells.
The experimental hybrids were embeded into mice. The findings revealed that the hybrids were extremely metastatic and deadly.
Moreover, the molecules that the hybrids used for metastasis originated from white blood cells and were similar to those used in metastatic cells in human cancers.
The researchers then confirmed previous findings that hybridization occurs naturally in mice that lead to metastatic cancer.
"Viewing the fusion of a cancer cell and a white blood cell as the initiating event for metastasis suggests that metastasis is virtually another disease imposed on the pre-existing cancer cell," said Pawelek.
"We expect this to open new areas for therapy based on the fusion process itself," he added.
The team is conducting further studies over human beings who have had a bone marrow transplant, considered a source of white blood cells for patients
The genes from the transplanted white blood cells, found in tumour cells also showed fusion with white blood cells. However extensive studies are required in this field
"To date, the fusion theory and the considerable evidence supporting it have largely been overlooked by the cancer research community. The motivation for our article is to encourage other laboratories to join in," said Pawelek.
The study appears in May issue of Nature Reviews Cancer.