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Water engine propels tumor cells through the body

By Tim Sandle     May 2, 2014 in Science
Scientists have found how cancer cells spread through extremely narrow three-dimensional spaces in the body. They have identifying a propulsion system based on water and charged particles.
The finding is important because it shows how deadly cells migrate through a cancer patient's body. The work shows the importance of studying how cells behave in three dimensions.
Scientists have shown that tumor cells require proteins to form arm-like extensions to "crawl" across the flat surfaces. This type of travel was believed to be the primary means of how cancer spreads within a patient, a process called metastasis. Based on this conclusion, researchers have been working on ways to disable actin and its molecular helpers, hoping this can keep cancer from spreading.
To understand this better, the researchers have focused on tumor cell movements. Using microfluidic lab-on-a-chip and imaging techniques they have uncovered a new mechanism of migration.
The researchers found that within tight spaces, cancer cells create a flow of liquid that takes in water and ions at a cell's leading edge and pumps them out the trailing edge, propelling the cell forward. The team called this mechanism the Osmotic Engine Model. The discovery may lead to new treatments that help keep the disease in check.
The study was carried out at John Hopkins University and the findings have been published in the journal Cell. The paper is titled “Water Permeation Drives Tumor Cell Migration in Confined Microenvironments”.
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