Researchers have developed a new imaging platform that provides an insight into the exact moment when cancer cells turn aggressive and start to spread, turning deadly for the body.
Certain proteins, such as E-cadherin, are important for the maintenance of normal tissue structure. When tumors become more aggressive, they often lose E-cadherin, resulting in dramatic changes to their structure, function and ability to spread.
But research suggests that when cancer cells are forced to express E-cadherin they behave less aggressively and revert back to normal. Unfortunately, limitations in our ability to directly monitor these effects have made it difficult for scientists to assess the full impact.
"This accessible set-up allows us to introduce E-cadherin directly into the tumor environment, where it has immediate and dramatic effects," Dr Hon Leong, lead author of the study, was quoted as saying.
"Using 3D time-lapse imaging, the impact of this protein can be visualized and the subsequent effects on cancer cell structure, function and aggressiveness can be monitored in real time for up to 48 hours," Leong said.
Drs Chambers and Lewis hope this approach will allow scientists to determine how proteins like E-cadherin can exert their tumor-suppressive properties on the deadly spread of cancer.
"The insights afforded by this technology will help scientists revisit other proteins thought to be important in metastatic spread, but whose modes of action are not understood, and to watch how they actually function in real-time," said Dr Chambers.
Through further research, the two researchers believe their approach could provide valuable information to help moderate aggressive cancers and improve patient outcomes.
"Although genomics technology has revealed many new proteins that could force cancers to 'switch' back to their less aggressive state, these new targets have not yet been validated in preclinical models like mice because it is difficult to determine the molecular effects on each individual cancer cell," Dr Lewis was quoted as saying.
"This novel platform allows us to produce compelling photographic evidence of how these anti-cancer proteins work and gain insight into their mechanisms," he said.
The study was released in PLoS ONE.