June 19, 2024

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Scientists Uncover Mechanism of Breast Cancer Metastasis

Scientists Uncover Mechanism of Breast Cancer Metastasis



Scientists Uncover Mechanism of Breast Cancer Metastasis

New research has revealed the crucial role of a protein called dynein in the movement of breast cancer cells, providing a novel target for “paralyzing” cancer cells, which could potentially serve as a non-destructive alternative to chemotherapy.

While clinical applications are still in development, this breakthrough offers hope for future personalized cancer therapies.

One of the most deadly aspects of any cancer is metastasis, the spread of cancer cells throughout the body.

Groundbreaking research led by Pennsylvania State University has uncovered the mechanism by which breast cancer cells invade healthy tissues.

This pivotal discovery highlights the essential role of a motor protein called dynein in propelling cancer cell movement within soft tissue models, offering a new clinical target to impede cancer cell metastasis and potentially revolutionize cancer treatment.

Erdem Tabdanov, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at Pennsylvania State University and one of the lead co-authors of the study, explained, “This finding marks a paradigm shift in many ways. Thus far, motor proteins have never been utilized to provide mechanical force for cancer cell movement, i.e., the ability of cancer cells to self-migrate. Now, we can see that by targeting dynein, we can effectively inhibit the movement of these cells, thus preventing their spread.”

Collaborative Efforts and Model Systems

The project initially started as a collaborative effort between the Department of Chemical Engineering at Pennsylvania State University and the College of Medicine at Pennsylvania State University.

It later evolved into a multi-institutional collaborative project involving researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Scientists Uncover Mechanism of Breast Cancer Metastasis

Researchers used live-cell microscopy to observe the migration of breast cancer cells in two different human model systems. The first system involved a two-dimensional network of collagen fibers, revealing how cancer cells move in the extracellular matrix surrounding tumors and showcasing the critical role of dynein in cancer cell movement.

The second system was a three-dimensional model developed by a team led by Amir Sheikhi, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. This three-dimensional model aimed to mimic soft tissue using microgel particles or a microgel network, connected in a tumor-like fashion. Similar to the two-dimensional model, researchers found in the three-dimensional model that dynein was “indispensable” for cell movement during cancer cell spread or metastasis.

Tabdanov explained that cell “paralysis” could prove to be an effective cancer treatment strategy compared to chemotherapy, as it can prevent cancer from spreading without damaging healthy tissues and cells after the main tumor has been surgically removed.

He said, “The trick with chemotherapy is that it kills cancer cells slightly faster than other parts of the body—it’s a race against time. Chemotherapy, while busy killing cancer cells, inflicts significant damage on normal healthy tissues within the body. If we can control cancer, stop it from progressing, we can maintain the health of the body’s healthy parts.”

Future Prospects

The researchers emphasized that any potential clinical treatment methods are still a long way off, as they have yet to conduct human or animal trials. Sheikhi has already applied for multiple patents related to the platform developed by his team and plans to utilize this technology to study various diseases, including other cancers.

Sheikhi stated, “We are very excited about our collaboration with the Penn State College of Medicine, and our lab is closely collaborating on other projects. I believe these platforms may one day enable personalized medicine and treatment for cancer and have the potential to extend to personalized treatment for many other diseases.”

Scientists Uncover Mechanism of Breast Cancer Metastasis


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