CHAPEL HILL Isn't it odd that cancer cells from one organ, such as the skin, can travel and take root in a totally different organ, like the lung?
What's more, why is it that certain cancers prefer to spread, or metastasize, to certain places? Prostate cancer usually moves to bone; colon cancer, to the liver.
To answer these questions, Dr. Hendrik van Deventer, assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, turned to a century-old idea of cancer spread: English surgeon Stephen Paget's "seed and soil."
The idea is that the spread of cancer isn't just about the tumor itself (the seed), but also the environment where it grows (the soil). Other scientists have shown that cells from bone marrow can migrate and change the environment so that it is receptive to incoming cancer cells. These cells do so by forming small neighborhoods or niches within distant organs. Thus, biologists refer to these areas as "premetastic niches."
Van Deventer and his colleagues wanted to know what mysterious non-tumor cell could change a normal organ so cancer cells would invade. If scientists could discover the identity of that normal cell, maybe they could devise treatments to stop metastases.
In a study published in the July issue of The American Journal of Pathology, van Deventer showed for the first time that that cell could be a fibrocyte cells that travel around the body, rushing to the site of an injury to aid in healing when needed. The study also suggests ways to develop treatments to prevent metastases using already available medications.
"This study shows it's possible for fibrocytes to form the premetastatic niche. But it stops short of proving they positively are the cells," van Deventer said.
The UNC researcher's work with fibrocytes began when he wanted to figure out why "knockout mice" that are missing th
|Contact: Leslie Lang|
University of North Carolina School of Medicine