MANCHESTER, England, May 31 (UPI) -- British scientists said they have made a breakthrough in understanding how cancers spread, possibly leading to new methods of fighting the disease.
The University of Manchester study used embryonic stem cells to investigate how some tumors are able to migrate to other parts of the body, thereby making cancer treatments more difficult.
Lead researcher Chris Ward and colleagues studied a crucial change what makes cancer cells able to start moving and spread into other tissues. Since that crucial change -- known as the epithelial-mesenchymal transition -- was observed in the early embryo, Ward theorized that embryonic stem cells might undergo a similar process.
"We have shown (embryonic stem) cells spontaneously change in a manner that is remarkably similar to the epithelial-mesenchymal transition," he said. "They lose the proteins that cells use to bind to each other and have other protein alterations that are characteristic of spreading cancer cells."
He said by studying such cells, researchers have identified a novel component of the transition process and expect to identify other factors involved in cancer cell spread, hopefully leading to new cancer therapies.
Ward's findings are published in the journal Molecular Biology of the Cell.