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Seemingly invincible cancers stem cells reveal a weakness
Date:6/5/2014

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (June 5, 2014) Metastatic cancer cells, which can migrate from primary tumors to seed new malignancies, have thus far been resistant to the current arsenal of anticancer drugs. Now, however, researchers at Whitehead Institute have identified a critical weakness that actually exploits one of these cells' apparent strengthstheir ability to move and invade tissues.

"This is the first vulnerability of invasive cancer cells that we really understand," says Whitehead Member Piyush Gupta, whose lab's latest work is described in the June issue of the journal Cancer Discovery. "For a while we didn't know if they had any vulnerabilities that could be exploited for therapy. Then, a few years ago we discovered they were exquisitely sensitive to some chemical molecules, and therefore had to have a weakness. But we still didn't know at the time what that weakness was. Now we know."

Cancer cells acquire invasive and stem cell-like traits by undergoing a process called an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which transforms cube-like, immobile cells into elongated, mobile ones. Once mobile, cancer cells can form metastases by using the blood stream as an expressway to distant sites in the body, where they can establish new tumors. In addition to being invasive and metastatic, cancer cells that undergo an EMT are also resistant to radiation and most chemotherapies.

Although they are resistant to most therapies, Gupta and his colleagues had previously identified two compounds with very similar structures that were selectively toxic against the invasive cancer cells that had undergone an EMT, but not their non-invasive counterparts. These unique compounds were discovered in a large screen of over 300,000 chemical compounds.

Intrigued by these compounds that were selectively toxic to metastatic cancer cells, Yuxiong Feng, a postdoctoral researcher in Gupta's lab, further investigated their activity and discove
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Contact: Nicole Giese Rura
rura@wi.mit.edu
617-258-6851
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Source:Eurekalert

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