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Cancer support cells may evolve, fuel tumor growth, study shows

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill scientists have demonstrated in a living organism that cancers may cause surrounding supportive cells to evolve and ultimately promote cancer growth.

The new research offers what is believed to be the first evidence that mutations within cancer cells can signal surrounding tissue cells to alter their molecular composition in ways that promote tumor growth and proliferation. Moreover, the findings also suggest that cell mutations that promote cancer progression may arise in cells other than the predominant cancer cell.

The new findings are published as the cover story in today's (Dec. 16) issue of the journal Cell.While not offering immediate application to the treatment of human cancers, the research indicates that new anti-tumor therapies may be more effective if their targets are broadened to include molecules within supporting cells of the cancer.These additional target cells are in the tumor's surrounding "microenvironment," or stroma, including the supporting connective tissue that forms the framework of organs such as the breast, colon and prostate. They also are found in the tumor's blood vessels, or its vasculature.

"Basically, virtually all the studies on genetic changes or changes in gene expression have focused on the cancer cell, on events within the cancer cell itself," said Dr. Terry Van Dyke, professor of genetics and biochemistry and biophysics in the School of Medicine, member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the study's senior author.Thus, research focused solely on the predominant cancer cell, such as epithelial cells that form the bulk of many tumors including breast cancer, would be on the accumulated mutations that have allowed the cell to survive and grow unchecked. "But over the last several years, it has become increasingly clear that cancer involves complex interactions among different types of cell compartments, and, as in any organ, these compartments
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Source:University of North Carolina School of Medicine


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