Breakthrough Breast Cancer Treatment?
The treatment of cancer is often extremely difficult. Doctors have now developed a new treatment approach that enables cancer cells to be converted into fat cells. Such a transformation of the cells can prevent the formation of dangerous metastases.
In their current study, the scientists at the University of Basel found that a novel treatment enables cancer cells to be converted into fat cells. The experts published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Cancer Cell".
Cancer should be treated before it metastases
In recent years, medical professionals have consistently made significant improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. It is important for a successful treatment that the cancer is recognized if possible before it can spread in the body. If a tumor has already started to form metastases, successful treatment is still difficult.
Treatment successful for mouse breast cancer tumors
Scientists are now getting a better understanding of how the complex process of metastasis proceeds. External signals cause the tumor cells to undergo an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). The epithelial cells reach a state of high plasticity, which enables them to change into another cell type. At this stage, the cell resembles a stem cell. This process is essential for various physiological mechanisms, including embryonic development and wound healing. Unfortunately, cancer cells can use the epithelial-mesenchymal transition to move from one part of the body to another. This allows cancer to spread to different organs and tissues. The special adaptability in this phase enables scientists to fight cancer in a vulnerable state. In the current study, the experts looked at using the stem cell-like state of metastatic tumor cells to convert them into a less malignant state. This can prevent the development of secondary cancer. They tested this treatment on mice, which had previously been implanted with particularly aggressive human breast cancer tumors.
Aggressive cancer cells turned into harmless fat cells
The rodents received two doses of drugs already approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), one as an anticancer drug (trametinib) and the second as an anti-diabetic drug (rosiglitazone). This treatment was carried out for a period of three weeks. The results were extremely promising. The treatment could not only prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body, but also suppress the growth of the primary tumor by preventing the proliferation of cancer cells in this tumor. Aggressive cancer cells that had detached from the primary tumor were instead converted to fat cells, says study author Professor Gerhard Christofori from the University of Basel. While the cancer in the control group spread to the lungs and other organs, the mice treated with the combination therapy did not develop metastases.
Converted fat cells remained fat cells
Further cell tests have shown that breast cancer cells that have been converted into fat cells remain fat cells in the long term, explains Professor Christofori. The new treatment approach cannot completely convert the primary tumor into fat, but if a critical amount of the tumor cells can be reprogrammed, this could make the tumor more sensitive to conventional chemotherapy.
More research is needed
So far, the new treatment only works in mice. The potential effectiveness in humans has not been tested. The doctors also explained that not all cancer cells are transformed, but only those that undergo EMT during metastasis. This means that even if cancer cell conversion becomes an option for patients, it will most likely need to be used in conjunction with chemotherapy rather than instead of it. Further research is now to show how this technique can be used in existing chemotherapy and whether it can also be used for other types of cancer. (as)