Scientists discover a new way to stop cancer cells spreading

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen and the Francis Crick Institute have discovered a new way to stop cancer cells spreading, according to a study published in EMBO Reports.

Cancer cells spread by gripping the surrounding tissue. The research team have shown that experimental drugs can re-program cells so that they don’t stiffen around tumours, which allows them to be easily gripped.

This healthy tissue then traps the cancer cells, blocking their movement beyond the original tumour.

The study showed that targeting fibroblast cells in mice reduced the spread of cancer cells from the tumour to the lungs and liver through the blood stream.

Dr Erik Sahai, the study’s co-lead author, said: ‘This could be an exciting new way to harness the potential of the healthy tissue surrounding cancers to contain and restrain aggressive tumours — stopping cancer cells from breaking away and moving to new places in the body.’

Dr Janine Erler, the study’s lead author, said it was a ‘very promising new avenue of research’.

‘If further studies show this route can benefit patients, it could help crack one of the toughest challenges in cancer research — how to stop tumours spreading.

‘As these fibroblasts are present in all solid tumours, our findings may be relevant to many different cancer types. Therapies similar to the one we tested are currently in clinical trials for anaemia and could feasibly be used to treat cancer patients.’

Nell Barrie, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Most deaths from cancer are caused when cancer cells travel to new sites in the body and grow as secondary tumours. And we know that it’s not just cancer cells that play a part in this process – other cells in and around tumours are involved too.’

‘But the good news is research like this has the potential to uncover new ways to stop cancer in its tracks. Ultimately we hope these findings could lead to better ways to control the disease — and save more lives.’