New Technique Helps Track And Block Breast Cancer Spread

Metastasis occurs when cancer cells spread to different parts of the body. This is considered as the deadliest aspect of breast cancer. In a new cell-tracking technique called cellular barcoding, scientists were able to see that only a number of cells within a triple negative breast tumor (TNBC) can spread and multiply in neighboring organs. However, most of them are still able to discharge from the source tumor and be resilient to treatment.

With patient-derived cancer tissues transplanted into animal models, this cutting-edge technology allows experts to tag cells and follow their identical descendants. It also helps shed light on the development of TNBC and its response to cisplatin chemotherapy.

Tracing Cell Lineage

According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in women, accounting for over 508,000 deaths worldwide in 2011. A research team at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia aims to significantly lower that figure using cellular barcoding. This technology helped carry out a detailed analysis of breast cancer metastasis at the cell level using a sample human tumor tissue transplanted into mice.

Mounting evidence suggests an extensive diversity among cells that make up solid tumors, including breast cancer. Intratumor heterogeneity is the medical term for the complexity of individual cancer cells within a tumor. Such variability is thought to influence the way tumors spread or resist drugs, as well as the sampling of patient tumors. Studying the behavior of these cells will help scientists identify the best therapeutic targets.

The edge of cellular barcoding among other techniques is its ability to track a significant number of diverse cells and their descendants in parallel. Study co-author and co-leader Dr. Shalin H. Naik helped device the technique that they used in the research. He explains that the new method allowed them to home in on the handful of cell variant driving metastasis.

Blocking The Spread Of Cancer

Equipped with a new tool to identify which of the thousands of duplicates were involved in the spread of breast cancer, Dr. Nail and his colleagues can now focus on looking for ways to block them. He remarks that they want to carefully learn what is unique about these particular clones that enable them to travel from their original tumor and grow to other parts of the body.

Investigating The Effect Of Chemotherapy

Another study leader, Prof. Jane E. Visvader, discusses that the team also used the new cell-tracking strategy to investigate the effect of chemotherapy on the clones. Using a donated human tissue to develop mouse models of breast cancer tumors, the researchers administered a chemotherapy drug called Cisplatin to treat the disease.  The group has observed that while the treatment was able to shrink the tumors, it did not kill all the clones completely. Thus, the seeders eventually grew again, leading to a cancer relapse.

Although the results are preliminary and need to be tested in a real clinical setting, they may help to better understand how the disease evolves. As a result, healthcare providers can further improve treatment strategies. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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