Scientists in Switzerland say they have turn aggressive cancer cells into harmless fat in a mouse model.
Imagine if you could turn aggressive cancer cells into harmless fat.
Scientists in Switzerland say they’ve done just that, in a new study in mice. By taking advantage of the “plasticity,” or adaptability, of certain cancer cells during metastasis, the researchers were able to coax breast cancer cells in mice into becoming fat cells.
The scientists accomplished this using a combination of two drugs, both of which are already approved for use in humans by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The treatment didn’t convert all of the cancer cells into fat cells, but it did stop the cancer’s metastasis, or spread to other parts of the body, the researchers said.
The work is very preliminary, and it’s unclear if the findings will apply to people or to other types of cancers. But because the study used two drugs already approved by the FDA, it “may be possible” that the findings also apply to humans, the researchers wrote in their paper, published today (Jan. 14) in the journal Cancer Cell.
If future studies confirm the new work, the researchers believe that the therapy could be used in combination with conventional chemotherapy “to suppress both primary tumor growth and the formation of deadly metastases,” senior study author Gerhard Christofori, a professor at the University of Basel’s Department of Biomedicine in Switzerland, said in a statement.
Turning cancer into fat
When cancer cells metastasize, they undergo changes that allow them to “break free” from the initial tumor and spread to another site in the body. In order to do this, the cells temporarily enter a more “immature” state, similar to what’s seen in stem cells. In scientific terms, this change is known as an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT).
During EMT, the cancer cells are in a highly plastic, or adaptable, state. This state may offer “a window of opportunity” for therapies to target these cells and force them to transform into a different cell type, the researchers said.
To test this hypothesis, the researchers first created a mouse model of human breast cancer by transplanting human breast cancer cells into the mammary fat pads of female mice.
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