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Metastasizing Cancer Cells Prefer Denser Collagen

  • Scientists at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), have shown how the extracellular environment surrounding a tumor can affect the ease with which cancer cells can metastasize to other sites. The studies, headed by Stephanie Fraley, Ph.D., professor of bioengineering at UCSD’s department of bioengineering, showed that cancer cells placed in a 3D matrix of high-density collagen, but not low-density collagen, develop structures that resemble blood vessels and express a characteristic gene module, which in a number of different human cancers was found to be predictive of metastasis and patient survival.

    The researchers hope that their findings will help inform the development of new approaches to predicting the likelihood of metastasis and indicate which patients are likely to need more aggressive therapy. “Profiling additional cancer cell types and patient-derived tumor cells could also help to refine the gene module’s prognostic value in the nine tumor types already identified or define additional cancer-specific versions of the CINP,” the researchers write in their published paper in Nature Communications. “Validation of the prognostic value of this gene module could help patients avoid the long-term side effects of aggressive radiation and chemotherapy if the likelihood of metastasis is very low.”  The UCSD team’s paper is entitled “۳D Collagen Architecture Induces a Conserved Migratory and Transcriptional Response Linked to Vasculogenic Mimicry.”

    The vast majority of cancer deaths are caused by metastatic tumors, which occur when cancer cells from the primary tumor break away and migrate to other body tissues. In order to metastasize, the migrating tumor cells must first push through the extracellular matrix surrounding the primary tumor and reach either the lymph or blood vessels. What hasn’t been clear to date is how the structure of this extracellular matrix—and particularly the organization of collagen within it—may help or hinder tumor cell migration.

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    Metastasizing Cancer Cells Prefer Denser Collagen

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