Whether a person has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, breast cancer, or any other type of cancer, stopping cancer cells from spreading throughout the body is a primary goal of cancer research. Where chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy are successfully used to control the localized growth of most tumors, the real long-term danger comes when cancer’s cells are able to metastasize to other parts of the body and begin doing damage in a new area. Now a group of biomedical engineers from the University of Minnesota has completed a study on how to stop this process from occurring, and what they’ve learned may represent a significant breakthrough.
While other types of cancer will metastasize to faraway organs like the brain or the bone, mesothelioma tends toward what is known in the medical community as a localized spread: its cells travel from the organ that lines the chest cavity into the immediate lung and then the other lung, the adrenal glands, the kidneys and the liver. Peritoneal mesothelioma tends to spread to more organs, including the lungs and heart, the liver and kidneys, the pancreas, the brain, bone, and more. Stopping this spread would make a significant difference in the survival of patients. The research published in Nature Communications by biomedical engineers from the University of Minnesota focuses on stopping the cells from moving even after they have shifted the mechanism by which they travel.
Where mesothelioma researchers have long known that cancerous tumors have highway-like patterns on which cells move towards blood vessels and nearby tissue, they have been unclear on what drives cancer cells to access those routes. In studying this question, the Minnesota team administered an agent to stop the cells, only to find that they adapted a different mechanism. Upon learning this, the team targeted both movements and successfully stopped all of the cells’ movements.
Speaking of the team’s findings, senior author Paolo Provenzano, a University of Minnesota biomedical engineering associate professor and a Masonic Cancer Center researcher, said, “Cancer cells are very sneaky. We didn’t expect the cells to change their movement. This forced us to change our tactics to target both kinds of movements simultaneously. It’s almost like we destroyed their GPS so they couldn’t find the highways. This stopped the cells in their tracks. The cells just sat there and didn’t move.” The group hopes to begin studying what they learned in the laboratory to animal trials, and eventually to humans. “Ultimately, we’d like to find ways to suppress cancer cell movement while enhancing immune cell movement to fight the cancer,” Provenzano said.
As researchers learn more about the way that mesothelioma develops and advances within the body, victims of this asbestos-related disease gain new hope. To learn more about the resources available to you, contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net at 1-800-692-8608.