Scientists at Yale University in America have discovered the molecular triggers for cancer cells to spread throughout the body (metastasise). They have also developed a tool which may detect the triggers in patients with certain cancers. The discovery could lead to new ways for treating cancer. The study was published this week in the journal Nature Communications.
The study looked specifically at renal cancer and discovered a trigger for epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a process that breaks neighbouring cells apart from each other causing the cancer to metastasise. The researchers suggest that the trigger could be a change in the texture of the extracellular matrix, which acts as a scaffold for the tumour cells.
“It became clear that in some cancers, before the cells move away from the tumour and spread, there’s a change in the environment,” said the researchers. “When these fibres in the matrix align, they create tracks in which the cells move, and we found how it is controlled by complex molecular networks.”
By looking at the results from their experiments together with clinical trial data, the researchers confirmed that this mechanism is active in kidney cancers. The discovery could also lead to new treatments for cancer by targeting the molecules with drugs and other means to discourage the cells from undergoing the EMT process.