Researchers shed new light on growth of cancer cells

17 March 2023 10:43

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Zurich/Strasbourg/Baden - Structures outside of cells, such as fibers, promote the growth of tumors. Zurich-based researchers made this discovery as part of an international study. Up to now, research has mostly focused on the cells themselves. A project at Baden Cantonal Hospital should now provide further answers.

Research groups from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) and the University of Strasbourg have made a discovery that sheds additional light on how tumors actually grow, further details of which can be found in a press release. Led by Viola Vogel, Professor of Applied Mechanobiology at ETH Zurich, and Gertraud Orend from the University of Strasbourg, the researchers focused on certain channels outside of the cancerous cells. The presence of these channels was first identified around a decade ago.

The research work provides evidence that these channels block immune cells from accessing the tumor cells and even help them to multiply. Accordingly, the evidence suggests that these channels are in fact former blood vessels that initially supply the rapidly growing cell cluster with sugar and oxygen. The vessel wall subsequently changes and its cavity gradually fills with fibers. These are able to hold onto immune cells. Instead of targeting the tumor cells, they even secrete growth-promoting molecules.

According to the biophysicist Viola Vogel, up to now cancer research has mostly focused on the cells, while extracellular matrix has been somewhat neglected: “But if you want to understand what a spider does, you also have to look at its web”, she states.

In a follow-up project at the Baden Cantonal Hospital, one of Viola Vogel's PhD students is now investigating whether tissue samples from breast cancer patients contain parallels to the breast cancer findings obtained in murine models. “The better we understand how the microenvironment steers how tumor cells multiply, the likelier it is that we’ll find a way of preventing them from doing so”, Vogel explains. mm

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