Researchers have found that cancer cells move differently than normal, healthy cells throughout the body. Above, a tumor cell migrating through collagen. Ryan Petrie/Drexel University
PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Researchers at Drexel University in Philadelphia have found that certain tumor cells are unable to move like healthy cells, which could impact the way cancer is spread and treated.
The team found that certain tumor cells called fibrosarcoma cannot move the same as normal connective tissue cells when going through tight, three-dimensional spaces.
"Therapeutically preventing the inappropriate movement of metastatic tumor cells could be used in combination with existing chemotherapies to increase patient survival," Ryan Petrie, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Drexel's College of Arts and Sciences, said in a press release.
Healthy cells are able to switch movements that create a pressure differential inside allowing for the large, rigid nucleus to move, like a piston in an engine, according to Petrie. This allows the cells to fit in spaces they might not normally fit through.
Petrie found that fibrosarcoma cells are unable to perform this piston movement to fit through tight spaces when certain protease enzymes are present and active, meaning that tumor cells destroy the cell matrix while healthy cells move through leaving the matrix intact.
"Cell migration is a lethal characteristic of metastatic tumors, where malignant cells begin to move inappropriately and spread through the body to form secondary tumors," Petrie said. "To fully understand the mechanisms which drive normal and pathological cell movement, we must study cell migration in three-dimensional environments, such as the ones found in our tissues."
Determining the difference between movement of normal and cancerous cells has implications for treatment of cancer and other medical conditions.
"Promoting movement of fibroblasts in specific three-dimensional tissues like dermis (skin) and cartilage could help to heal difficult-to-treat wounds," Petrie said. "Understanding the fundamental molecular mechanisms driving the movement of these cell types will be essential for designing rational therapeutic strategies in the future."
The study was published in the Journal of Cell Biology.