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article imageWhite blood cells spread cancer, found in mice for the first time

By Kathleen Blanchard     Jul 2, 2013 in Health
Montreal and Calgary research suggests white blood cells role in spreading cancer could be a target for treating the disease. In mouse studies, scientists learned how the body’s immune fighting cells turn on the body to spread cancer.
Lorenzo Ferri, a co-author of the paper, in a statement, the study is “exciting” because it is the first to show “an entirely new way cancer spreads.”
Another reason for the excitement is that there are already medications in use for non-cancerous conditions that can be used to stop this particular pathway of cancer metastasis.
Ferri, director of the Division of Thoracic Surgery and the Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer Program at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and colleagues embarked on their investigation of white blood cells after noticing cancer patients who developed infection after surgery were more likely to develop secondary tumors in other parts of the body.
To find out what happens, they punched holes in the intestines of mice to induce infection, which stimulates white blood cells to come to the rescue.
Because any insult or trauma, such as surgery, can cause white blood cells to become activated, the researchers used a control group of mice who had a fake surgery that did not cause infection.
Before the experiment both groups of mice were also injected with cancer cells.
In mice that had their cecum of the intestine punctured, the scientists were able to see with a microscope, small web-like network of DNA that trap and destroy bacteria and other pathogens. But mice that had the ‘sham’ surgery didn’t have the DNA traps known as neutrophils extracellular traps (NETS).
“Instead of killing the cancer cells, these webs activated the cancer cells and made them more likely to develop secondary tumours, or metastasis,” Dr. Jonathan Cools-Lartigue, first author of the study, and a PhD student from the LD MacLean Surgical Research Laboratories at McGill University said in a press release.
Mice that had their intestines punctured and treated with enzymes that stop the formation of NETS, developed significantly fewer tumors.
After they were given a drug, the tumor cells were released. The video below shows lung cancer cells flowing over white blood cells. The green shows NETs produced by the white blood cells. You can see cancer cells trapped inside the DNA webs. You can see the release of trapped tumor cells after the researchers added a drug.
The finding, published in the Journal Clinical Science, is the first to show the immune system’s white blood cells can turn into ‘traitors’ by attacking the body instead of defending it to spread cancer. “Our study reflects a major change in how we think about cancer progression,” says Dr. Ferri. “And, more importantly, how we can treat it.”
More about white blood cells, role in cancer, Mcgill university, Study
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