Study Sheds Light on Tumor Metastasis

BALTIMORE, June 22 (UPI) — Johns Hopkins University scientists say they’ve used a laser beam to activate a protein that causes a cluster of fruit fly cells to act in unison.

The researchers, led by Professor Denise Montell, said their findings hold potential importance for understanding embryonic development, wound healing and tumor metastasis — the process by which tumor cells migrate to lymph nodes, bones and other organs.

The scientists said their study demonstrates the collective direction-sensing behavior of live cells in intact tissue, and a means of controlling protein behavior in a living organism by shining a focused beam of light precisely on the parts of cells where they want the protein to be active.

“Our little system in the fruit fly is an elegant example of cells behaving socially in their natural environment surrounded by other cells,” Montell said. “You can’t capture this behavior if you look at individual cells in a culture dish.

“People tend to think of cancer as single cells breaking off from the tumor and migrating away,” Montell added, “but it’s likely that this collective form of movement is important, at one phase or another, in the spread of tumors.”

She said a better understanding of how and why cells move can facilitate development of new treatments, not only for cancer, but other disorders characterized by aberrant cell behavior.

The study appears in the May 16 issue of the journal Nature Cell Biology.

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