Thursday, February 25, 2010

Step 5: Find out what makes it spread

British researcher catches cancer on video

The plot might seem undeveloped compared to the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but the takeaway of Erik Sahai's latest film will leave viewers salivating for the sequel. The British scientist's new technique lets him zoom in on breast cancer tumors to watch the individual cells break away and spread. Studying cancer growth with real time video gives researchers a powerful new tool to better understand the disease. Sahai compares finding drifting cancer cells to finding a needle in a haystack because of the huge number of cells in one tumor, according to the American Society for Cell Biology's press release on Sahai's report. Finding the needle puts Sahai and his team at Cancer Research UK, a division of the London Research Institute one step closer to finding a cure.

The latest video featured breast cancer metastasis (a big word for "spreading") in mice. It helped Sahai's team find a set of messenger proteins in the bloodstream that control whether or not the cancer can spread. The messenger cells could send two different signals. The first signaled single cancer cells to break away from the tumor and spread via the bloodstream to other organs, like the lungs. But, the second signal blocked single cells from breaking away from the tumor. Only clumps of cancer cells could break away, blocking the cancer cells from wandering through the bloodstream and reaching the lungs. Watch the video here. Check out more Sahai films here.

Knowing how the cancer grows helps scientists develop more effective treatments that target the source of the problem. Read more about Sahai's research here.

Read more about the American Society for Cell Biology's annual meeting (where Sahai's film screened) here.

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