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Breaking the mucus barrier unveils cancer cell secrets

Date:
March 17, 2011
Source:
American Institute of Physics
Summary:
Measuring the mechanical strength of cancer cell mucus layers provides clues about better ways to treat cancer, and also suggests why some cancer cells are more resistant to drugs than others, according to new research. Healthy tissues naturally secrete mucus to protect against infection. Cancer cells, however, produce far more mucus than healthy cells.

Measuring the mechanical strength of cancer cell mucus layers provides clues about better ways to treat cancer, and also suggests why some cancer cells are more resistant to drugs than others, according to Kai-tak Wan, associate professor of engineering at Northeastern University, Boston, Mass.

According to Wan, healthy tissues naturally secrete mucus to protect against infection. Cancer cells, however, produce far more mucus than healthy cells.

Mucus consists of protein "stalks" attached to sugar sidechains, or "branches." This tangled brush forms a physical barrier. When over-expressed, it can prevent drugs from reaching the cancer cells beneath. Over-expressed mucus also makes it easier for cancer cells to break away from surrounding cells and move through the body, or metastasize.

Wan's research partner, Robert B. Campbell, an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Worcester, Mass., is investigating the use of chemical agents that limit the formation of this tangled mucus barrier so medicines can get through.

To determine how well those agents work, Wan used the nanoscale tip of an atomic force microscope to push against the mucus barrier. The less resistance it encountered, the less tangled the barrier.

Wan found that suppressing the formation of mucus sidechains significantly reduced the energy needed to pierce the mucus barrier in lung, breast, colorectal, pancreatic, and wild type (natural) ovarian cancer cells.

Yet the treatment registered barely any change in multi-drug resistant ovarian cancer cells. No one understands how those cells resist drugs that ordinarily kill wild type ovarian cancer.

Wan's research points to an important difference. The mucus layer formed by the two types of cells reacts differently to the same chemical treatment.

"How this phenomenon is related to biochemistry is unknown at this stage, but it tells us what we should be looking at in future research," Wan said about his and Campbell's conclusions.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Institute of Physics. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Xin Wang, Aalok A. Shah, Robert B. Campbell, Kai-tak Wan. Glycoprotein mucin molecular brush on cancer cell surface acting as mechanical barrier against drug delivery. Applied Physics Letters, 2010; 97 (26): 263703 DOI: 10.1063/1.3532847

Cite This Page:

American Institute of Physics. "Breaking the mucus barrier unveils cancer cell secrets." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 March 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110316142630.htm>.
American Institute of Physics. (2011, March 17). Breaking the mucus barrier unveils cancer cell secrets. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110316142630.htm
American Institute of Physics. "Breaking the mucus barrier unveils cancer cell secrets." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110316142630.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

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