News Release

Scientists discover how to trap cancer cells before they spread

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Cancer Research UK

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute and the University of Copenhagen have discovered a new way to potentially 'fence in' a tumour and help stop cancer cells spreading, according to a Cancer Research UK funded study published in EMBO Reports today, (Thursday).

Tumours cause cells called fibroblasts to stiffen the surrounding tissue so that cancer cells can grip it- allowing them to tunnel through to the blood stream and spread around the body.

But the team showed that adding experimental drugs reprogrammed fibroblasts - stopping them from 'stiffening' the tissue around tumours. This healthy tissue trapped the cancer cells, blocking their movement away from the tumour.

The team showed in mice that targeting fibroblasts reduced the movement of cancer cells from the tumour to the lungs and liver through the blood stream.

Co-lead author of the study, Dr Erik Sahai from the Francis Crick Institute said: "This could be an exciting new way to harness the potential of the healthy tissue surrounding cancers to contain and restrain aggressive tumours - stopping cancer cells from breaking away and moving to new places in the body."

Lead author Dr Janine Erler from BRIC at the University of Copenhagen, said: "It's early days but a very promising new avenue of research. If further studies show this route can benefit patients, it could help crack one of the toughest challenges in cancer research - how to stop tumours spreading.

"As these fibroblasts are present in all solid tumours, our findings may be relevant to many different cancer types. The therapy we tested is used to treat inflammatory diseases and could be used to treat cancer patients."

Nell Barrie, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK said: "Most deaths from cancer are caused when cancer cells travel to new sites in the body and grow as secondary tumours. And we know that it's not just cancer cells that play a part in this process - other cells in and around tumours are involved too.

"But the good news is research like this has the potential to uncover new ways to stop cancer in its tracks. Ultimately we hope these findings could lead to better ways to control the disease - and save more lives."


The study was funded by Cancer Research UK, FEBS, Novo Nordisk Foundation, Danish Cancer Society, Danish Council for Independent Research, Innovation Fund Denmark and Wellcome Trust.

For UK media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.

For international media enquiries contact:

Associate professor Janine Erler, BRIC, University of Copenhagen
Phone: 0045 20 34 11 06

Or communication officer at BRIC Anne Rahbek-Damm
Phone: 0045 21 28 85 41

Notes to editors:

*Hypoxia and loss if PHD2 inactivate stromal fibroblasts to decrease tumour stiffness and metastasis: EMBO Reports, Chris Madsen et al.

About the Francis Crick Institute

The Francis Crick Institute is a world-leading centre of biomedical research and innovation. It will house more than 1,200 leading scientists from a variety of disciplines working together under one roof to tackle the biggest health challenges faced by humankind. Dedicated to research excellence, the institute will have the scale, vision and expertise to tackle challenging scientific questions underpinning health and disease.

Due to open in 2016, The Francis Crick Institute is a visionary collaboration between six of the world's leading medical research organisations: Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, UCL (University College London), King's College London and Imperial College London. It will be world-class with a strong national role - training scientists and developing ideas for public good.

About Biotech Research & Innovation Centre (BRIC)

Biotech Research & Innovation Centre (BRIC) was established in 2003 by the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to form an elite centre in biomedical research.

Our aims are to:

  • perform interdisciplinary, cutting-edge research
  • establish a strong research education programme
  • attract funding and new research projects
  • ensure that research results are used for the development of commercial products
  • promote exchange of ideas within the Danish biotech research community

About Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK is the world's leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
  • Cancer Research UK's pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
  • Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last forty years.
  • Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK's ambition is to accelerate progress so that 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years within the next 20 years.
  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 0300 123 1022 or visit Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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