Researchers had initially theorized that the fast-growing malignant cells and the normal cells that surround them existed independently in a cancerous breast without interaction.
Then evidence emerged indicating that the normal-looking cells encouraged cells within the tumor to become malignant, but how the one community influenced the other wasn't known.A new study led by Ohio State University cancer researchers published in the Oct. 22 issue of Nature has begun solving the mystery.
It shows for the first time that the loss of a gene called PTEN from one type of those surrounding cells can dramatically alter the tumor environment in ways that foster tumor growth."Our findings reveal a new role for this gene in the tumor environment, which could lead to entirely new treatments for breast cancer and perhaps other solid tumors using agents that target cells surrounding the tumor, as well as the cancer cells themselves," says co-principal investigator Gustavo Leone, associate professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center-Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.The findings should also improve the understanding of breast cancer and of other conditions that are influenced by the local tissue environment such as autoimmune disease, lung fibrosis and neurodegenerative diseases. The PTEN gene produces a protein that is a key regulator of cell metabolism, and it is lost in many human cancers. This new study shows that when PTEN is lost in fibroblasts, a principle cell component of the tissue that surrounds a tumor, it dramatically alters the structure and biochemical make-up of the tumor environment.