Progress toward improving detection, monitoring and treatment of metastatic cancers

1 min read

Most cancers kill because tumour cells spread, or metastasise beyond the primary site, for example breast, to invade other organs, brain being one. Now, a University of Southern California (USC), study has found that circulating tumour cells can actually target specific distant organs.

Their study of brain-invading breast cancer reveals that circulating tumour cells have a molecular signature indicating specific organ preferences.

The findings, which appear in Cancer Discovery, explain how tumour cells in the blood target a particular organ and may enable the development of treatments to prevent the spread of these metastatic cancers.

In this study breast cancer cells from the blood of breast cancer patients with metastatic tumours were isolated, expanded and grown in the lab.

Analysis of these cells identified regulator genes and proteins within the cells that apparently directed the cancer’s spread to the brain. The team were therefore able to predict that a patient’s breast cancer cells would eventually migrate to the brain.

Assistant professor of stem cell and regenerative medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, Min Yu, also discovered that a protein on the surface of these brain-targeting tumour cells helps them to breech the blood brain barrier and lodge in brain tissue, while another protein inside the cells shield them from the brain’s immune response, enabling them to grow there.

 “We can imagine someday using the information carried by circulating tumour cells to improve the detection, monitoring and treatment of the spreading cancers,” Yu said.

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