New method to trap cancer cells before they spread

London :Researchers have discovered a new way to ‘fence in’ a tumour and help stop cancer cells from spreading.

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.

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute and the University of Copenhagen 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.

“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,” said co-lead author of the study, Erik Sahai from the Francis Crick Institute.

“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,” said lead author Janine Erler from Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC) at the University of Copenhagen.

“As these fibroblasts are present in all solid tumours, our findings may be relevant to many different cancer types,” said Erler.

“The therapy we tested is used to treat inflammatory diseases and could be used to treat cancer patients,” said Erler. The study was published in the journal EMBO Reports.