DDNEWS Cancer Research News Exclusive: Monitoring cancer movement
by Kelsey Kaustinen  |  Email the author

LONDON—Cancer metastasis remains one of the biggest issues that drug developers face in targeting the disease. While countless effective options exist for treating the variety of cancer types that exist, there is always the concern of treating tumors before they have the chance to spread. Generally such efforts have focused on destroying existing tumors before they can metastasize to other sites in the body, but a group of researchers from Cancer Research UK are taking a different tack: learning more about how cancers move in order to slow or halt their movement itself.
The scientists, led by Erik Sahai and Paul Bates, have developed a computer model based on melanoma skin cancer cells that can predict how a cancer cell might move in different instances. Two of the possible types of movement are crawling or squeezing, and their usage varies depending on the environment they are trying to invade. On a flat surface, cancer cells were found to crawl along, while in a webbed environment, they will often become rounder to squeeze through gaps.  
"For cancer to spread, cancer cells actually need to move inside the body, from one point to another, stop and start a new tumor," said Dr. Melda Tozluoglu, lead author of the study. "Our work focuses on understanding how the cancer cells move in the body so that we can hamstring them—lock them into place so that other treatments can destroy them.
"Our study shows that cancer cells need different molecular mechanisms to navigate in different environments, just like you would need light running shoes to jog in the park but strong books to hike in hills in the rain. We also know that cancer cells have the ability to use all different methods of movement, so stopping just one route will not stop them spreading throughout the body. In other words, if we take their hiking boots away, they will switch to running shoes, and, although they may not be as fast, they will keep moving. This means we need to use drugs that target the many different type of movement that cancer cells can take advantage of."  
Sahai notes that their group has been working on this research since the team began in 2004, and their research isn't limited to skin cancer.
"Although the paper is focused on a melanoma cell line, we provide supporting data in a breast cancer model and primary human squamous cell carcinoma explants," says Sahai. "More broadly, amoeboid-squeezing migration of cancer cells has been reported in breast cancer and fibrosarcoma models by John Condeelis and Peter Friedl."
The type of cell movement displayed depends on both the type of cancer in question and the environment that the cells are trying to invade, but Sahai says "the environment could almost be considered 'dominant,'" noting that the most dangerous cells are generally the ones that are "best able to adapt their mode of migration to their environment."  
As for what kinds of drugs or treatments might serve to halt cancer cell movement, Sahai notes that "plasticity is likely to be a problem," and combination strategies might be the best approach. Sahai says their computer model will be helpful in "predicting non-trivial results of drug combinations," and as they move forward, the team will be incorporating multiple cells and matrix degradation.  
"Stopping cancers from spreading to new parts of the body in an important aim of our researchers, and it's essential for making treatments more effective," Dr. Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said in a press release. "Research like this, which benefits our understanding of all types of cancer, will be central to the work at the Francis Crick Institute, a new super-laboratory in London headed by Prof. Sir Paul Nurse, where scientists will tackle major diseases such as cancer using the very latest technologies."  
The paper detailing this work, "Matrix geometry determines optimal cancer cell migration strategy and modulates response to interventions," appeared in Nature Cell Biology.

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