UD and Nemours researchers discover how cancer cells infect normal healthy cells
Scientists who work in cancer research acknowledge that cells become cancerous because of genetic mutations that build up inside the cell. But recently, scientists at University of Delaware and Nemours/A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children found that cancer cells can have a bad influence on their normal, healthy neighbors.
“When you take normal cells and then you grow them together with cancer cells, we saw that the normal cells were becoming more like cancer cells," said AyyappanRajasekaran, a researcher at UD and president of Therapy Architects LLC in Wilmington.
What he and his colleagues discovered was that cancer cells produce an enzyme called protease, which splits a protein in a nearby normal cell that’s important for keeping healthy cells together. The fragment that’s split off from that protein is able to convert that normal cell into a cancerous one. That finding was published recently in the Journal of Cell Science.
So it would seem that the answer to keeping cancer from spreading would be to block this enzyme. But it’s not that simple.
“Most of the inhibitors of these enzymes are highly toxic and don’t fare well in clinical trials, so we don’t have an inhibitor to block this enzyme," said Rajasekaran.
Also, this enzyme is actually needed to help support normal cell development. So blocking this enzyme might cause other problems. But if scientists can figure out how to tackle this catch-22, it could mean a lot. From there, Rajasekaran says that knowledge can be used to develop drugs and treatments to keep cancers from spreading in the body. That's what he says makes this finding stand out from the sea of cancer studies that are out there.
“Cancer research is like an ocean, you add a new drop and nothing will happen. But sometimes the discovery is so fundamental that it opens up a whole new idea, a whole new concept in the field and I think this paper belongs to that category," said Rajasekaran.