Current FDA-approved blood tests that detect circulating tumor cells flag molecules associated with epithelial transitions; however, the Duke team found additional markers associated with mesenchymal origins, adding new targets that could be used to enhance the usefulness and sensitivity of the tests.
"Cancer is a hijacking of that normal embryonic stem cell process," Armstrong said. "It reactivates this silent program that is turned off in adult cells, allowing tumor cells to move throughout the body and become resistant to therapy."
Armstrong said the involvement of EMT/MET processes in tumor growth is a relatively new finding that is gaining acceptance among cancer scientists. The discovery by the Duke team adds strong evidence that the EMT/MET processes are underway when a patient's cancer is spreading.
"In my opinion this work presents some of the most compelling data for the existence of epithelial-mesenchymal transitions in human cancer," said Mariano A. Garcia-Blanco, professor of medicine, molecular genetics and microbiology, and senior author in the work.
"This work should pave the way for studies to understand the mechanisms underlying these transitions in humans and their importance in disease progression and therapy," said Garcia-Blanco, who is also director of the Duke Center for RNA Biology.
The Duke team additionally noted that tumor cells appear to be most dangerous when they can easily transition between EMT and MET in a stem cell-like phase of changability that enables them to grow, spread and resist treatment.
That finding could provide new opportunities for novel therapies that target these morphing mechanisms.
"This is not just for a biomarker, it's a direction to take therapies as well," Armstrong said. "It's a new horizon."
|Contact: Sarah Avery|
Duke University Medical Center