Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New way to grow, isolate cancer cells may add weapon against disease

The news a cancer patient most fears is that the disease has spread and become much more difficult to treat. A new method to isolate and grow the most dangerous cancer cells could enable new research into how cancer spreads and, ultimately, how to fight it.

University of Illinois researchers, in collaboration with scientists at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China, published their results in the journal Nature Materials.

“This may open the door for understanding and blocking metastatic colonization, the most devastating step in cancer progression,” said Ning Wang, a professor of mechanical science and engineering who co-led the study.

The most dangerous cancer cells are the ones that can break away from the primary tumor and travel through the body to form a new tumor in another tissue, a process called metastasis. Fortunately, only a small percentage of cancer cells have the ability to become new tumors. Unfortunately, the tumor-seeding cells are the ones hardest to kill with chemotherapy – and it only takes a lone survivor to mount a resurgence.

Cancer researchers have theorized that these elusive tumor-spreading cells may be responsible for recurrences after surgery or treatment. They are very interested in studying these cells in hopes of better understanding and ultimately combating them. However, identifying and isolating metastatic cells from a general cancer cell population is very difficult.

One hotly debated question is whether metastatic cells share characteristics of stem cells, and if so, to what extent. Some studies have found cancer cells with stem-cell markers, others have displayed stem-cell-like behavior, and yet others have suggested that cells can spontaneously switch from a primary cancer cell to a stem-cell-like cancer cell and back.

Wang’s group at the U. of I. had previously found that stem cells grow better in a soft gel than on a rigid plate. They wondered if this principle would also apply to cancer-spreading cells, since they share some other qualities of stem cells. So they suspended single cells of mouse melanoma, a type of skin cancer, in soft gel made of fibrin, a fiber-like protein found throughout the body. They cultured the cells into colonies and compared them with those grown on a stiff flat surface, the traditional method used by cancer researchers.

After five days, the soft gels were riddled with spheres of soft cells, many more colonies than grew on the harder surface. In addition, the cells were softer and grew in spherical clumps – unusual for most cancer cells, but signature characteristics of stem cells.

“Starting from single cells, by day five, you have more cells in the soft substrate proliferating,” Wang said. “This is exactly the opposite from most cancer cells, which prefer a stiffer substrate. But these cells like to grow in the soft environment. Why is this important? Because they turn into tumors.”

The researchers found that the cells grown in the 3-D soft fibrin were much more efficient at causing tumors in mice than cells prepared traditionally. In fact, injecting as few as 10 cells from a culture grown in a soft gel was sufficient to induce tumors in a large percentage of mice, while 10,000 cells from a traditional culture are needed to achieve results with the same incidence of cancer. This suggests that, while a traditional culture of cells has only a few capable of starting new tumors, the soft substrate method is capable of isolating these cells and promoting the growth and multiplication of these cells in culture.

The researchers then tested their soft fibrin substrate with other cancer cell lines and found that they also formed stem-cell-like colonies of highly tumorigenic cells, showing that the process is generalizable for many types of cancer. The cells grown in a soft gel even caused tumors in normal mice, called “wild-type,” rather than only the immune-compromised mice typically needed for such studies.

The researchers also found that the tumor-repopulating cells express a self-renewal gene called Sox2, which is usually only expressed in stem cells and not in traditionally prepared cancer cells. When the researchers blocked the Sox2 gene, the cells started to differentiate, becoming traditional tissue-specific cancer cells.

Now, the researchers will continue exploring the molecular mechanisms that make these tumor-seeding cells so good at surviving in distant organs and so efficient at seeding tumors. They hope that knowledge will contribute to treatments to stop the spread of cancer.

“Since these cells are more resistant to current cancer-killing drugs than differentiated cancer cells, we would like to see if there are ways to identify and develop new molecules and methods that can specifically target and kill these cells,” Wang said.

Editor's note: To contact Ning Wang, call 217-265-0913; email
The paper, “Soft Fibrin Gels Promote Selection and Growth of Tumorigenic Cells,” is available online.

Liz Ahlberg | University of Illinois
Further information:

Further reports about: Sox2 cancer cells metastatic cells molecular mechanism single cell stem cells

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>