Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New way to grow, isolate cancer cells may add weapon against disease

Date:
July 2, 2012
Source:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Summary:
A new method to isolate and grow the most dangerous cancer cells could enable new research into how cancer spreads and, ultimately, how to fight it. Researchers found that while a traditional culture of cancer cells has only a few capable of starting new tumors, a soft gel is capable of isolating tumor-repopulating cells and promoting the growth and multiplication of these cells in culture. The new culture technique could allow researchers to better study metastatic cancers.

The news a cancer patient most fears is that the disease has spread and become much more difficult to treat. A new method to isolate and grow the most dangerous cancer cells could enable new research into how cancer spreads and, ultimately, how to fight it.

University of Illinois researchers, in collaboration with scientists at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China, published their results in the journal Nature Materials.

"This may open the door for understanding and blocking metastatic colonization, the most devastating step in cancer progression," said Ning Wang, a professor of mechanical science and engineering who co-led the study.

The most dangerous cancer cells are the ones that can break away from the primary tumor and travel through the body to form a new tumor in another tissue, a process called metastasis. Fortunately, only a small percentage of cancer cells have the ability to become new tumors. Unfortunately, the tumor-seeding cells are the ones hardest to kill with chemotherapy -- and it only takes a lone survivor to mount a resurgence.

Cancer researchers have theorized that these elusive tumor-spreading cells may be responsible for recurrences after surgery or treatment. They are very interested in studying these cells in hopes of better understanding and ultimately combating them. However, identifying and isolating metastatic cells from a general cancer cell population is very difficult.

One hotly debated question is whether metastatic cells share characteristics of stem cells, and if so, to what extent. Some studies have found cancer cells with stem-cell markers, others have displayed stem-cell-like behavior, and yet others have suggested that cells can spontaneously switch from a primary cancer cell to a stem-cell-like cancer cell and back.

Wang's group at the U. of I. had previously found that stem cells grow better in a soft gel than on a rigid plate. They wondered if this principle would also apply to cancer-spreading cells, since they share some other qualities of stem cells. So they suspended single cells of mouse melanoma, a type of skin cancer, in soft gel made of fibrin, a fiber-like protein found throughout the body. They cultured the cells into colonies and compared them with those grown on a stiff flat surface, the traditional method used by cancer researchers.

After five days, the soft gels were riddled with spheres of soft cells, many more colonies than grew on the harder surface. In addition, the cells were softer and grew in spherical clumps -- unusual for most cancer cells, but signature characteristics of stem cells.

"Starting from single cells, by day five, you have more cells in the soft substrate proliferating," Wang said. "This is exactly the opposite from most cancer cells, which prefer a stiffer substrate. But these cells like to grow in the soft environment. Why is this important? Because they turn into tumors."

The researchers found that the cells grown in the 3-D soft fibrin were much more efficient at causing tumors in mice than cells prepared traditionally. In fact, injecting as few as 10 cells from a culture grown in a soft gel was sufficient to induce tumors in a large percentage of mice, while 10,000 cells from a traditional culture are needed to achieve results with the same incidence of cancer. This suggests that, while a traditional culture of cells has only a few capable of starting new tumors, the soft substrate method is capable of isolating these cells and promoting the growth and multiplication of these cells in culture.

The researchers then tested their soft fibrin substrate with other cancer cell lines and found that they also formed stem-cell-like colonies of highly tumorigenic cells, showing that the process is generalizable for many types of cancer. The cells grown in a soft gel even caused tumors in normal mice, called "wild-type," rather than only the immune-compromised mice typically needed for such studies.

The researchers also found that the tumor-repopulating cells express a self-renewal gene called Sox2, which is usually only expressed in stem cells and not in traditionally prepared cancer cells. When the researchers blocked the Sox2 gene, the cells started to differentiate, becoming traditional tissue-specific cancer cells.

Now, the researchers will continue exploring the molecular mechanisms that make these tumor-seeding cells so good at surviving in distant organs and so efficient at seeding tumors. They hope that knowledge will contribute to treatments to stop the spread of cancer.

"Since these cells are more resistant to current cancer-killing drugs than differentiated cancer cells, we would like to see if there are ways to identify and develop new molecules and methods that can specifically target and kill these cells," Wang said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jing Liu, Youhua Tan, Huafeng Zhang, Yi Zhang, Pingwei Xu, Junwei Chen, Yeh-Chuin Poh, Ke Tang, Ning Wang, Bo Huang. Soft fibrin gels promote selection and growth of tumorigenic cells. Nature Materials, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nmat3361

Cite This Page:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "New way to grow, isolate cancer cells may add weapon against disease." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 July 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120702184025.htm>.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2012, July 2). New way to grow, isolate cancer cells may add weapon against disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120702184025.htm
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "New way to grow, isolate cancer cells may add weapon against disease." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120702184025.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

AP (July 31, 2014) Sarasota County, Florida health officials have issued a warning against eating raw oysters and exposing open wounds to coastal and inland waters after a dangerous bacteria killed one person and made another sick. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Health Insurers' Profits Slide

Health Insurers' Profits Slide

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 30, 2014) Obamacare-related costs were said to be behind the profit plunge at Wellpoint and Humana, but Wellpoint sees the new exchanges boosting its earnings for the full year. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Peace Corps Pulls Workers From W. Africa Over Ebola Fears

Peace Corps Pulls Workers From W. Africa Over Ebola Fears

Newsy (July 30, 2014) The Peace Corps is one of several U.S.-based organizations to pull workers out of West Africa because of the Ebola outbreak. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Weather Kills 2K A Year, But Storms Aren't The Main Offender

Weather Kills 2K A Year, But Storms Aren't The Main Offender

Newsy (July 30, 2014) Health officials say 2,000 deaths occur each year in the U.S. due to weather, but it's excessive heat and cold that claim the most lives. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins