Cancer biologists and a cardiologist take a new look at aggressive tumors

An unusual collaboration between a University of Iowa cardiologist and cancer biologists at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI, the Scripps Research Institute in California and Kanagawa Cancer Center Hospital and Research Center in Japan utilized a multidisciplinary approach to learn more about how aggressive cancer cells function and how they differ from poorly aggressive cancer cells. The study, which appears in the Sept. 1 issue of Cancer Research, may also suggest potential new therapeutic targets for cancer treatment.

Previous studies have found that aggressive tumor cells express genes that are more normally associated with other cell types, including endothelial cells that line blood vessels. Also, aggressive cancer cells are able to form vascular-like, fluid-conducting networks, an ability known as vasculogenic mimicry that resembles the behavior of embryonic cells that form primitive vascular networks.

Patients' tumors that have fluid-conducting networks are much more aggressive than tumors that do not have those networks.

The present study focuses on just a few of the genes that are expressed by aggressive cancer cells but not by poorly aggressive tumor cells. These genes normally are involved in regulating anticoagulant, or blood-clotting, activity in endothelial cells. The study suggests that the expression of these genes by aggressive tumor cells provides the cells with anticoagulant capabilities that are similar to those in blood vessel cells.

"Essentially our observations indicated that the aggressive melanoma tumor cells behaved in a similar manner as do endothelial cells that form blood vessels," said Mary Hendrix, Ph.D., the Kate Daum Research Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology and head of the department.

The finding that tumor cells have anticoagulant properties similar to endothelial cells prompted the researchers to analyze whether there was blood flow within these tumors in extravascula

Contact: Jennifer Brown
University of Iowa

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