A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed how sarcoma cells move to pursue oxygen, according to a Johns Hopkins University news release published in early August.
Much like people following an “ever widening path trail of breadcrumbs” sarcoma cells in mice “pursue a path toward greater concentrations of oxygen,” the release stated. “If you think about therapeutic targets, you could target this process specifically,” Sharon Gerecht, professor in the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and a lead author of the study, said in the release.
The release stated that the results reached after three years of laboratory studies “provide clues about a key part of the life cycle of soft-tissue sarcomas, and also a proven way to test cancer treatments in the lab.”
The focus of the research was to look at oxygen and how cancer cells respond to varying levels of it, particularly in the early stages. Eight researchers examined thousands of early stage cancer cells in mice. The cells were placed in a material called hydrogel which is similar to gelatin. This reproduced the environment surrounding cancer cells in human tissue, according to the release. “For this experiment, the hydrogel contained increasing concentrations of oxygen from the bottom of the hydrogel to the upper layer,” the release stated. “That allowed researchers to track how cancer cells respond to different levels of oxygen, both within a tumor and within body tissues.
The largest tumors studied had a large area of very low oxygen at their center, while smaller tumors had varying oxygen concentrations throughout. The study showed that sarcoma cells moved from areas of lower oxygen to higher. The researchers also learned through the studies, that minoxidil — known to many as Rogaine, the product used to treat hair loss — halted the cancer cells’ movement through the hydrogel.
While previous works have demonstrated the role of hypoxia in tumor development and metastasis, “the understanding of how oxygen gradients regulate early stages of tumor metastasis is lacking,” researchers wrote in the study.
Another study on early stage cancer cell development published in July showed that glutamine was needed for cancer cell growth.
After researchers reduced the amount of glutamine available to mutant cancer cells, the colorectal cancer cells died, according to a July 20 news release from Science Daily. “This discovery led the team to investigate the effects of blocking glutamine availability in mice with colorectal cancer tumors containing the common PIK3CA mutation,” the article stated.
“In layman’s terms, we discovered that colon cancers with PIK3CA oncogenic mutations are addicted to glutamine, a particular nutrient for cancer cells,” Zhenghe John Wang, PhD, professor of genetics and genome sciences and co-leader of the Cancer Genetics Program at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, said in the release. ”We also demonstrated that these cancers can be starved to death by depriving glutamine with drugs,” said Wang, a lead author in the study.
By 2025, an estimated 2.1 million people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer every year, according to the National Cancer Institute website. “This is a 31% increase from 2012 that is due in part to the aging of the U.S. population and the greater use of cancer screening,” the website stated.
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