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Model identifies genes that induce normal skin cells to become abnormal

Northwestern University researchers have developed a novel, three-dimensional model that allows scientists to observe how interacting with the microenvironment of metastatic melanoma cells induces normal skin cells to become similar to aggressive cancer cells that migrate and spread throughout the body.

The model, developed by Mary J. C. Hendrix and colleagues at Children's Memorial Research Center, consists of a three-dimensional collagen matrix preconditioned by malignant melanoma cells. Hendrix is president and scientific director of the Children's Memorial Research Center, professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a member of the executive committees of The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Center for Genetic Medicine at Northwestern University.

The model was described in an article in the Nov. 15 issue of Cancer Research.

"Our findings offer new insights into the influence of the tumor cell microenvironment on the transformation of normal skin cells, as well as on genetic triggering mechanisms and signaling pathways that could be targeted for novel therapeutic strategies to inhibit the spread of melanoma," Hendrix said.

Metastatic cancer cells are characterized by increased tumor cell invasion and migration, as well as an undifferentiated, or "plastic," nature.

The Hendrix lab has hypothesized that this poorly differentiated cell type serves as an advantage to aggressive cancer cells by enhancing their ability to metastasize virtually undetected by the immune system. The group's current study tested the hypothesis that the microenvironment of metastatic melanoma cells could induce benign skin cells to become cancer-like.

The researchers seeded a particularly aggressive form of human metastatic melanoma cells onto a three-dimensional collagen matrix and allowed the cells to precondition the microenvironment for several days. The malignant melanoma cells were
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Contact: Elizabeth Crown
e-crown@northwestern.edu
312-503-8928
Northwestern University
15-Nov-2005


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