Pancreatic cancer: Changeable tumor cells are more dangerous
As a result of pancreatic cancer (pancreatic cancer), metastases often occur in the lungs or liver. German scientists have now recognized the reason for this connection. The adaptability of cancer cells plays a crucial role in the formation of metastases. Shape-changing tumor cells pose a particular danger. They detach from the cancerous tissue, travel with the blood to other organs and adapt to the new conditions there.
A research team from the Technical University of Munich recently presented the latest findings from his cancer research. The focus of the scientists was on the formation of metastases. The researchers discovered particularly dangerous cancer cells that have a better ability to change shape and can therefore spread more effectively to other organs. The study results were published in the "Developmental Cell" journal.
Shape-changing tumor cells cause metastases more quickly
As the experts report, tumor cells are linked together in a cobblestone-like network. If metastases form, cancer cells must first detach from this network. According to the researchers, some cells do this better than others. The study documented how some cancer cells managed to change their shape, properties and metabolism in order to detach themselves from the tumor cell structure.
Adaptable decides on metastasis formation
The altered tumor cells took on a narrower and elongated shape and could use the blood as a means of transport to reach other organs. Once there, according to the Munich scientists, a change is again necessary to form metastases. Here, the ability to form contacts with cells on site is crucial, so that the cancer cell can become “sedentary” to a certain extent.
Liver is particularly threatened by shape-changing tumor cells
"We were able to show that liver involvement in particular depends on the plasticity of the tumor cell," reports Dr. Maximilian Reichert, research group leader and first author of the study in a press release on the new findings. If the cancer cells were unable to make contact with other cells, they would passively be flushed further into the lungs with the bloodstream, where they would eventually get stuck. This is a more favorable course for patients because lung tumors are easier to control, according to the expert.
Molecular glue makes tumor cells more dangerous
A specific protein called E-Cadherin is responsible for the changeability, according to the study. This protein acts like an adhesive with which some tumor cells can better hold onto new tissue. In a mouse model, the experts were able to show that the absence of the protein means that tumor cells from the pancreas can only get into the lungs and not “dock” on the liver. However, if the protein was present, the cancer cells could also affect the liver.
Do the cancer cells program themselves?
As the research team found, the process of changing the cells is controlled by a so-called epigenetic program. Certain sections of the DNA are read stronger or weaker, thus initiating the decisive change. The decryption of such programs is now the focus of upcoming studies.
Starting point for new cancer therapies?
Maximilian Reichert's team is now starting a new research to determine whether such epigenetic programs can be inhibited or used as a target for treatments. "The better we understand the formation of metastases, the more we can influence them," summarizes Reichert. This is particularly important for pancreatic cancer, since almost all of those affected die from the metastases. (vb)