Researchers at IFOM (FIRC
Institute of Molecular Oncology) and the University of Milan led by Professor
Giorgio Scita have come up with a new finding with respect to movement of
cancer cells - cancer cells move to other parts in a manner similar to that of
a flock of birds.
Cancer cells have some
specific features - they grow rapidly, divide continuously and excessively and
spread to other parts of the body. The process by which the cancer
spreads to a neighboring or distant tissue or
organ is referred to as metastasis. Metastatic invasion is usually a late stage
in the disease and has limited treatment options.
In a recent paper published
in the journal "Current Biology," researchers have studied the spread of
lymphocyte cancer cells and have postulated possible means to prevent the
spread. Interestingly, the researchers found that cancer cells spread like
migratory birds! We often see migratory birds flying in the sky in a group with
a leader. Once the leader gets tired, another bird replaces it. A similar
phenomenon occurs with cancer cells as well.
In their study, the
researchers found that
- The ability
of cancer cells to metastasize is increased when they move in a group rather
than as single cells. A minimum of 23 cells aggregate together to migrate.
cells are more sensitive to the effect of chemical signals or chemokines when
they are aggregated as compared to single or non-aggregated cells. They move in
the presence of even low concentrations of chemokines.
aggregated cells move in perfect coordination, led by a lead cell. The lead
cell is frequently replaced by one of the other cells, a phenomenon similar to
that seen in nature.
regulated movement is paused in between so that the cells can evaluate the
environment and change their direction if necessary.
This process of spread by
aggregation has been noted for solid tumors like breast cancer
, colon cancer and melanoma,
beside blood cancer like chronic leukemia and lymphoma.
The research has an
cancer cells spread faster when they aggregate, molecules that interfere with
or disrupt the aggregation of cells will reduce the ability of the cancer to
Further research to identify
such molecules could revolutionize the treatment of cancer. They will be able
to prevent the spread of the cancer
which can then be treated by other available treatments, thereby improving the
prognosis of the condition.
The research was conducted
in collaboration with the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, the
University of Toulouse, the National University of Singapore, and A*STAR of
from the archives of the IFOM Mechanisms of tumour cell migration research unit
directed by Giorgio Scita.