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Feature Articles : Jun 1, 2014 ( )
Corruption of the Tumor Microenvironment
Accumulating research suggests that the best possible treatments for cancer will not simply target and kill cancerous cells but will also work by making the neighboring cells—the so-called tumor microenvironment—behave more normally.
“Most people recognize that cancer is not just a ball of malignant cells. It’s a complex rogue organ,” says Frances Balkwill, Ph.D., professor of cancer biology at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London. “At least half the tumor isn’t made up of malignant cells at all. It’s all the other cells of the host, particularly immune system cells, fibroblasts, and blood vessel cells, that are recruited and often corrupted by the malignant cells to help the tumor itself grow and spread.”
Dormant Disseminated Tumor Cells
Disseminated tumor cells are cells that travel away from the primary tumor and settle in secondary organs. Whether disseminated tumor cells metastasize or remain dormant may depend on the microenvironment of secondary organs.
For metastasis to occur, the tumor has to activate its microenvironment—particularly nearby blood vessels. This process appears to involve chemokines, including CCL2 and CCL5, according to researchers led by Lubor Borsig, Ph.D., senior associate scientist in the Institute of Physiology at the University of Zürich.
“Half the secret of life is outside the cell. That’s true for cancer. It’s true for the issue of metastasis,” says Zena Werb, Ph.D., professor of anatomy at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. Dr. Werb and her lab study microenvironment changes that set the stage for metastasis.
Highly Multiplexed Tumor Imaging
“I wanted to have an imaging method that actually visualizes the cell within its microenvironment,” recalls Charlotte Giesen, Ph.D., scientist and Branco Weiss Fellow at the Institute of Molecular Life Sciences at the University of Zürich, where she works in the laboratory of Bernd Bodenmiller, Ph.D. “The current treatment in cancer focuses on the cancer cells, but the tumor microenvironment drives many hallmarks in cancer and is therefore as important if not even more important.”
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