Movement of tumor cells offers insight, new Drexel study finds | The Triangle

Movement of tumor cells offers insight, new Drexel study finds

Photo Courtesy John Green/Bay Area News Group/TNS
Photo Courtesy John Green/Bay Area News Group/TNS

Drexel University researcher Ryan Petrie recently published a paper in the Journal of Cell Biology with the potential to reduce skin-cancer-related deaths.

The novel research behind this discovery helps the scientific community to better understand the migration of normal and cancerous skin cells through the body. Primarily, the question that should be answered is: how does studying the movement of tumor cells help prevent cancer patients from dying?

According to a paper published in Cell, nearly 90 percent of cancer deaths are related to the metastasis, or the spread through the body, of cancerous cells. If this movement can be better understood, then it may be possible to reduce the mortality rate of cancer.

“Cell migration is a lethal characteristic of metastatic tumors, where malignant cells begin to move inappropriately and spread through the body to form secondary tumors,” Petrie said in a statement to DrexelNow.

According to him, there are clear differences in the movement of normal cells and their cancerous cell counterparts. Since there is a clear distinction, the cancerous cells can potentially be separately targeted to reduce movement and prevent the metastasis of tumor cells.

When a normal cell encounters a space through which it cannot easily move, the cell switches to another type of movement that uses a nuclear piston mechanism. Metastatic cancer cells, on the other hand, have an alternate method of moving through a tightly packed extracellular environment.

These types of cancer cells use a class of enzymes, catalysts that speed up chemical reaction, to help them move through through the environment. This allows them to maximize the available free space that the cells can move through.

When the activity of this enzyme is reduced, tumor cells may respond by undergoing physiological changes that result in the cells becoming rounded. This allows the cancerous cells to move more freely through the extracellular environment of a person’s body.

Petrie believes that understanding the mechanisms of these different types of cell motility may lead to new methods of slowing cancer metastasis. This would ultimately provide clinical benefit in the form of more effective cancer treatments.

“It is extremely desirable to block the movement of tumor cells as a method to reduce metastasis, the most lethal aspect of malignant disease. Our research suggests that in the future it may be possible to selectively reduce tumor cell movement, while leaving the movement of normal cells relatively unaffected. More work will be required to determine if this idea is ultimately feasible, but our current research indicates that it may be a promising approach,” Petrie said.