Progress in research aimed at finding ways to fight cancer by targeting the local environment in which tumors grow is being reported by researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL).
The targeting of interactions between cancer cells and their environment together with the traditional tactic of directly targeting cancer cells with drugs or radiation is an important new front in the fight against cancer.
The study was conducted by two CSHL scientists from different disciplines who joined forces in the Laboratory's tradition of collaborative research. Mikala Egeblad, Ph.D., is an expert in the analysis of interactions between cancer cells and normal cells, and Scott Powers, Ph.D., is an expert in applying genome-wide "big-picture" methods to the study of cancer.
Powers and Egeblad determined that even when focusing only on the signals between breast cancer cells and just one single cell type in the local environment (called fibroblasts), the majority of these signals promoted cancer. Interestingly, each signal that was closely studied had a different impact on breast tumors: one contributed to cancer cell survival, another to proliferation, and a third to inflammation and the growth of local blood vessels (both of which support tumors). Further experiments showed that when several of these signals were blocked at once, the inhibiting effect on tumor growth was greater than when individual signals were blocked.
"This tells us that tumor and normal cells interact as a complex network and that the hope of finding a 'single most important interaction' for therapeutic targeting is misguided," Powers commented. "When dealing with something that is this biologically complex, it is really important to assess the entire set of signals involved, rather than just one."
Dr. Egeblad added: "The good news from our study is that we can probably make much better progress at fighting cancer by targeting multiple interactions between tumors and their local environment."