Cancer cells don’t sit still. Instead, they migrate from their original sites and establish new tumors in other parts of the body. Once a cancer spreads, it is harder to eliminate.
A recent study offers a new clue to how cancer cells acquire the ability to invade other tissues. The ability to invade other tissues is a prerequisite for metastasis.
The study revealed that invasion requires cells to stop dividing. Therefore, invasion and proliferation are mutually exclusive. The finding could inform cancer therapies, which generally target rapidly proliferating cancer cells.
Researchers used a transparent worm to elucidate this invading process. During the work’s normal development, a cell known as the anchor cell breaks through a structure called the basement membrane, which initially separates the uterus from the vulva. The process is similar to how human cancer cells invade basement membranes to enter the bloodstream. The bloodstream carries the cells to distant sites.
Researchers found a gene that regulated anchor cell invasion. When the gene was turned off, the anchor cell failed to invade the basement membrane. However, the anchor cell also began to divide.
Conversely, when cell proliferation was inhibited, the anchor cell stopped diving and began to invade again.
Further experimentation showed that stopping cell division was necessary and sufficient for invasion. This new study is the first to uncover the genetic mechanism that explains why these two processes may be mutually exclusive.
This research changes how cancer is researched. Cancer is thought of as a disease of uncontrolled cell division. Many cancer drugs are designed to target these dividing cells. However, this study suggests that researchers need to figure out how to target these non-dividing cells, as these are the ones that are invasive.
However, before researchers can translate its way into cancer treatments, further treatment is necessary.