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Cancer cell behavior during Metastasis – New finding

A recent study in rats proposes that the highly malignant tumor cells possess a "toggle switch" that allows them to convert into highly mobile cells// , which attack other tissues and nest in their new environment.

According to the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers, this finding of the two alternating forms of tumor cells; travelers and nesters reveals how cancer mestasizes i.e., spreads to other body parts.

"Understanding this toggle switch might ultimately enable scientists to find ways to stop cells from metastasizing, which is the most deadly trait of cancer," said the study's lead investigator, Mariano Garcia-Blanco, M.D., Ph.D., professor of molecular genetics and microbiology.

The researchers will publish their findings in the Sept. 19, 2006, issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, now available on line. The research was funded by the National Cancer Institute.

Until now, scientists have believed that cancer cells must transform permanently from stationary epithelial cells into migratory mesenchymal cells in order to metastasize. The Duke team discovered that highly malignant cells are equal parts epithelial and mesenchymal, transitioning between the two as their surroundings necessitate. The proteins that the cell produces dictate which way the cell shifts.

In a classic example of survival of the fittest, a cancer cell's ability to toggle between epithelial and mesenchymal enables the most malignant cells to aggressively invade and then peacefully adapt in unfamiliar territory, the scientists said.

"The prevailing notion has been that the more mesenchymal the cancer cells, the more mobile and metastatic they would be," Garcia-Blanco said. "In reality, aggressive cancer cells are not homogenous, but are extremely versatile in their ability to adapt as their survival needs shift." The researchers discovered this transition in cancer cells when they observe
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