Articles — 22 December 2014

Scientists at Georgia Institute recently published a study on the way cancer cells spread which may give the scientific community insights on how to treat aggressive forms of cancer. The team isolated the SNAIL gene responsible for metastasis (spread of cancer cells). The SNAIL gene, normally involved in the regulation of embryonic development, was observed to induce the spreading of cancer cells. Michelle Dawson, an assistant professor of chemical and bio-molecular engineering, and her team observed breast cancer cells in vitro and found that cells overexpressing the SNAIL gene act more aggressively independent of their environment. The discovery is significant since 90 percent of cancer-related deaths are due to metastasis.

“This gene relates directly to the mechanism that metastatic cancer cells use to move from one location to another.” – Michelle Dawson

Dawson’s team expanded on prior studies which show that cancer cells spread by, “hijacking the process by which cells change their type from epithelial (cells that lack mobility) to mesenchymal (cells that can easily move). The team looked at the biophysical properties of breast cancer cells by measuring the mechanical properties of cell organelles and found that cells overexpressing the SNAIL gene made these components less rigid. The study also measured the breast cancer cells mobility on different substrates and found that cells overexpressing the SNAIL gene acted like aggressive cancer cells no matter the substrate. The team observed that these transformed cells are not able to form into a secondary tumor. The cells that are transformed to a mesenchymal state lose the ability of cell-to-cell adhesion and must transition back to the epithelial state.

This deeper understanding of how cancer may become aggressive and spread throughout the body will hopefully inspire new advances in cancer therapeutics. Researchers may be able to accurately target the mechanism of metastasis and block/slow cancer growth.

To learn more about this development click here!

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Daniel Goldfarb

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