Show an ad over header. AMP

Trying to prevent cancer cells from metastasizing

Growth of normal tumor cell clusters in a mouse lung (l ) compared to growth of tumor cell clusters when they are prevented from expressing epigen (r). Photo: Kevin Cheung/FredHutch

A signal between breast cancer cells could be a target for new drugs to block the cells from clustering, migrating and metastasizing, researchers said in early findings published in Cell last week.

Why it matters: Metastatic tumors kill nearly 43,000 people from breast cancer, 33,000 from prostate cancer and 135,720 from lung cancer in the U.S. every year. Scientists are seeking ways to prevent a person's cancer from spreading to other organs and becoming more deadly.


Background: Metastatic cancer was thought to mainly originate from single cancer cells traveling to other parts of the body. But there's growing evidence that, at least in some cancers, tumors are more likely to spread throughout the body if they cluster together before traveling through a process called collective cell migration, or collective metastasis.

  • "In this particular study, we show there's a 500-fold increase in metastasis formation for cluster tumor cells [CTCs] compared with the equivalent number of individual tumor cells," study co-author and medical oncologist Kevin Cheung tells Axios.
  • Patients with CTCs tend to have "markedly worse clinical outcomes," says Cheung, assistant professor of the public health sciences division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
  • CTCs can range from three to dozens of cells that separate from the primary tumor and travel through the bloodstream or lymphatic system.

What they found: Using high resolution imaging to examine clusters of breast cancer cells in mouse and human models, the team discovered a space called "nanolumina" between the cells of each cancer cluster where the cells co-opt a signaling molecule called epigen to promote the growth of clusters.

  • Epigen appears to be accumulating between these nanolumina at about 5,000 times higher concentration than the fluid outside the structure, Cheung says.
  • They found when epigen was suppressed within the nanolumina, primary tumor and metastatic outgrowth was greatly reduced.
  • "Epigen is like a toggle switch. When epigen is high, cluster tumor cells divide and proliferate. ... If we block the epigen within these [nanolumina] compartments, we block metastasis," Cheung says.

What they're saying: Several scientists, who were not part of this study, said finding the nanolumina and epigen is an important early step in better understanding breast cancer metastasis that might later be found to apply to other cancers, too.

  • "These findings are very important and new. Most breast cancer patients are not dying from the primary tumor but from metastasis of their tumors," says Priscilla Hwang, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University.
  • "While this study focused on breast cancer, this could potentially be a target to look at for many other cancers as well. Obviously that's not been done yet, but the potential is there," says Aleks Skardal, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Ohio State University.
  • "Since a lot of metastatic therapies have been designed based on our understanding of single cell metastasis, this may be part of the reason why many therapies have not been effective for treating metastasis," Hwang says.

What they don't know: This may be a general approach for metastasis for different tumor types, but they don't yet know how many tumor types have nanolumina, Cheung says.

  • And any drug therapy targeting epigen would need to be a "balancing act," Skardal points out, as the molecule also plays an important role in normal cell growth.

What's next: After further research, "the next steps are figuring out how to weaponize this against cancer," Skardal says.

The norms around science and politics are cracking

Crafting successful public health measures depends on the ability of top scientists to gather data and report their findings unrestricted to policymakers.

State of play: But concern has spiked among health experts and physicians over what they see as an assault on key science protections, particularly during a raging pandemic. And a move last week by President Trump, via an executive order, is triggering even more worries.

Keep reading... Show less

Apple sets September quarter sales record despite pandemic

Apple on Thursday reported quarterly sales and earnings that narrowly exceeded analysts estimates as the iPhone maker continued to see strong demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

What they's saying: The company said response to new products, including the iPhone 12 has been "tremendously positive" but did not give a specific forecast for the current quarter.

Keep reading... Show less

Podcast: The vaccine race turns toward nationalism

The coronavirus pandemic is worsening, both in the U.S. and abroad, with cases, hospitalizations and deaths all rising.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the state of global vaccine development — including why the U.S. and China seem to going at it alone — with medicinal chemist and biotech blogger Derek Lowe.

How central banks can save the world

The trillion-dollar gap between actual GDP and potential GDP is a gap made up of misery, unemployment, and unfulfilled promise. It's also a gap that can be eradicated — if central banks embrace unconventional monetary policy.

  • That's the message from Eric Lonergan and Megan Greene, two economists who reject the idea that central banks have hit a "lower bound" on interest rates. In fact, they reject the idea that "interest rates" are a singular thing at all, and they fullthroatedly reject the idea — most recently put forward by New York Fed president Bill Dudley — that the Fed is "out of firepower."

Why it matters: If Lonergan and Greene are right, then central banks have effectively unlimited ammunition in their fight to increase inflation and employment. They are limited only by political will.

Keep reading... Show less

Leon Black says he "made a terrible mistake" doing business with Jeffrey Epstein

Apollo Global Management CEO Leon Black on Wednesday said during an earnings call that he made a "terrible mistake" by employing Jeffrey Epstein to work on personal financial and philanthropic services.

Why it matters: Apollo is one of the world's largest private equity firms, and already has lost at least one major client over Black's involvement with Epstein.

Keep reading... Show less

Jeremy Corbyn suspended by U.K. Labour Party over anti-Semitism report

The U.K. Labour Party has suspended its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, after a watchdog report found that the party failed to properly take action against allegations of anti-Semitism during his time in charge.

Why it matters: It represents a strong break by Keir Starmer, Labour's current leader, from the Corbyn era and one of the party's most persistent scandals.

Keep reading... Show less

U.S. economy sees record growth in third quarter

The U.S. economy grew at a 33.1% annualized pace in the third quarter, the Commerce Department said on Thursday.

The state of play: The record growth follows easing of the coronavirus-driven lockdowns that pushed the economy to the worst-ever contraction — but GDP still remains well below its pre-pandemic level.

Keep reading... Show less

Investors have nowhere to hide

The massive losses in oil prices and U.S. and European equities were not countered by gains in traditional safe-haven assets on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The unusual movement in typical hedging tools like bonds, precious metals and currencies means they are not providing investors an asset that will appreciate in the event of a major equity selloff.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories