A detailed study was conducted to show how ovarian cancer cells adapt to survive and proliferate in the peritoneal cavity. The researchers found that as the disease progresses, there is change in the structures inside the cells. This helps the cells to grow in an otherwise hostile environment of low nutrients and oxygen.
The understanding of how the cellular adaptations are regulated can help in the development of new targeted treatment options against ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women.
The study led by Eva Schmelz, a Professor and Scientific Director at Virginia Tech University, USA is published in the journal Frontiers in Oncology.
The Lethal Spread Of Cells
Ovarian cancer can often start from cancerous cells in the fallopian tubes. Cells shedding from this cancerous mass can then spread onwards throughout the peritoneal cavity via the fluid in the abdomen. At this stage, even if the original tumor is removed the patient's survival rates are just 30 percent.
The survival rate is increased to over 90 percent if it is caught in the initial stages. However, this cancer is difficult to detect because there are very few reliable early biomarkers or symptoms.
Schmelz said, "If we understand how ovarian cancer cells survive in the fluid of the abdomen as they spread around the peritoneal cavity, we may be able to develop specific therapeutics and interventions to suppress cancerous outgrowths of cells from the original tumor. Our previous work has shown the metabolism of cells changed as ovarian cancer progressed. We wanted to build on this by looking inside the cells to see if any structural differences could be seen. By examining cells developed from the ovaries of mice, any changes could be attributed to the progression of the disease rather than any differences between individuals."
To identify and measure the structure of mitochondria at different stages of the cancer, the researchers used a wide variety of microscopy techniques to obtain 2D images and 3D models of it.
The researchers found that as the ovarian cancer progressed, the structure of mitochondria changed from a filamentous network to that of a highly fragmented form. This fragmented structure and other changes in the function of mitochondria, helped the cells adapt to an environment that is low in nutrients and oxygen.
This also allows the cells to escape the commonly used treatments in ovarian cancer patients, so they can continue to divide.
The researchers hope that these findings will form the basis of research to develop new treatments for this devastating disease.
Future research will help to identify the mechanism by which the changes inside the cells are regulated by isolating specific cell signaling pathways to create targets for therapies that limit the viability and spread of ovarian cancer cells.