Public Release: 

Spreading cancer cells must change their environment to grow

Cancer Research UK

Spreading cancer cells arriving in a new part of the body must be able to change their new environment to continue to grow, according to a study by Cancer Research UK scientists at the Francis Crick Institute, published in Cell Reports.

The team found that the faster their surroundings change, the faster the cancer cells will grow.

A cancer cell that has spread to another part of the body needs help from the tissue that surrounds it to become established and form a new tumour. When a cell has the environment it needs, it will start to grow.

The researchers showed in mice that cancer cells that are able to spread easily produce a protein called THSB2 which helps them to make their new environment more welcoming - allowing tumours to grow. THSB2 does this by activating cells called fibroblasts, which normally help to build tissue in the body but can also support cancer growth.

Lead investigator Dr Ilaria Malanchi, Cancer Research UK scientist and group leader at The Francis Crick Institute, said: "If we can find a way to block the ability of a cancer cell to adapt to a new environment then this could slow down the growth of cancer to other parts of the body.

"The more THSB2 protein the cell produces, the faster the new tissue environment will change to give the best conditions for cancer growth.

"This is an exciting first step and what we need now is to find drugs that could stop cancer cells producing this protein and see if this reduces their ability to spread to new part of the body."

Professor Nic Jones, Cancer Research UK's chief scientist, said: "One of the biggest challenges in successfully treating cancer is stopping it from spreading to other parts of the body. It's a complicated process and research like this brings us a small step closer to understanding how we might stop it from happening and so save more lives."

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Notes to editors:

*del-Pozo-Martin Y. et al, 'Mesenchymal cancer cell-stromal crosstalk promotes niche activation, epithelial reversion and metastatic colonization'. Cell Reports, 2015.

About the Francis Crick Institute

The Francis Crick Institute will be a world-leading centre of biomedical research and innovation. It will promote connections between researchers, between disciplines, and between academic institutions, healthcare organisations and businesses. 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 charity supported by the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust, UCL (University College London), Imperial College London and King's College London. It will be world-class with a strong national role - training scientists and developing ideas for public good. http://www.crick.ac.uk

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.

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