When cells move about in the body, they follow a complex pattern similar to that which amoebae and bacteria use when searching for food, a team of Vanderbilt researchers have found.
The discovery has a practical value for drug development: Incorporating this basic behavior into computer simulations of biological processes that involve cell migration, such as embryo development, bone remodeling, wound healing, infection and tumor growth, should improve the accuracy with which these models can predict the effectiveness of untested therapies for related disorders, the researchers say.
"As far as we can tell, this is the first time this type of behavior has been reported in cells that are part of a larger organism," says Peter T. Cummings, John R. Hall Professor of Chemical Engineering, who directed the study that is described in the March 10 issue of the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.
The discovery was the unanticipated result of a study the Cummings group conducted to test the hypothesis that the freedom with which different cancer cells move a concept called motility could be correlated with their aggressiveness: That is, the faster a given type of cancer cell can move through the body the more aggressive it is.
"Our results refute that hypothesisthe correlation between motility and aggressiveness that we found among three different types of cancer cells was very weak," Cummings says. "In the process, however, we began noticing that the cell movements were unexpectedly complicated."
Then the researchers' interest was piqued by a paper that appeared in the February 2008 issue of the journal Nature titled, "Scaling laws of marine predator search behaviour." The paper contained an analysis of the movements of a variety of radio-tagged marine predators, including sharks, sea turtles and penguins. The authors found that the predators used a foraging strategy very close to a specialized random walk pattern, called a Lvy wal
|Contact: David F. Salisbury|