The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts General Hospital have revealed an intriguing science behind the spreading of cancer cells from one part of the body to else where. The researchers found out that cancer cells flow through blood stream of the patient and the cells can latch or hook itself to the endothelial blood vessels and make way for other cancer cells to reach out and create new tumors. Without understanding the science behind this, we have always heard that cancer attacked a particular body part like the liver, lung, stomach and then after few stages cancer spreads all over the body. We have been hearing this without knowing the underlying reason. The eminent researchers at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital ushered a new path of light for the treatment of cancerous tumors.
This research paper was published in December 2015 at the Nature Communications Journal which explained the theory of metastasis in cancer. When a cancer cell flows with blood, it connects itself with the endothelium layer of the blood vessels which is the outermost layer of a blood vessel and any material that flows with the blood are bound to come in contact with the endothelium. When the cell gets attached to the blood vessel, it sends out many nano-tubes (shown in the image) and transfers genetic materials to the endothelial blood vessels. This maked the blood vessel hospitable and ambient for new tumors to develop.
How does the cancer cells make bridges? What’s Metastasis?
Metastasis is the phenomenon by which cancer spreads from one part of the body to everywhere else in the body. During metastasis, the tumor cells become mobile so that they can detach themselves from their site of origin. At this phase, the tumors become circulating tumor cells or CTC. These CTCs then find a favorable area in the blood vessels where they can easily latch themselves. Once they latch to the blood vessels, they start penetrating genetic materials to the area to make grounds for new tumors to emerge.
“Normal endothelial cells should not enable a cancer cell to invade, but if a cancer cell can connect with an endothelial cell, and inject signals that enable this endothelial cell to be controlled and completely transformed, then it facilitates metastasis,” says Shiladitya Sengupta, an assistant professor at HST and at Harvard Medical School and also the senior author of the research paper.
Once this mystery has been solved, scientists and doctors can now work to inhibit the cancer cells from extending their nano tubes. It has also been revealed that cancer of specific body parts spreads to specific body parts. For example, lung tumors tend to spread to the brain, and breast tumors to the liver and bone.
“Once we saw that these structures allowed for a ubiquitous transfer of a lot of different materials, microRNAs were an obvious interesting molecule because they’re able to very broadly control the genome of a cell in ways that we don’t really understand,” Yamicia Connor, the lead author of the paper, says. “That became our focus.”
Source: Nature Communications