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New study finds heathy cells ‘push’ cancer cells to resist treatment

Slow-growing cancer cells become more resistant to chemotherapy treatment

Researchers from University College London (UCL) and Yale University have found that healthy cells ‘push’ cancer cells to grow more slowly in two bowel cancer studies.

Responsible for the deaths of over 900,000 people a year, bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer mortality worldwide, accounting for 10% of all cancer deaths in the UK.

The first study explored how 1,107 mini tumours derived from mice responded to changes in both their genes and environment using the latest single-cell analysis technology.

Either existing in one of two major states, fast-growing or slow-growing, researchers found that healthy cells in the body can push cancer cells towards the slow-growing stage, becoming more resistant to fast-growing cell-targeting treatments such as chemotherapy.

Recent research has shown that bowel cancer patients with more healthy cells in their tumour, including fibroblasts, which contribute to the formation of connective tissue and are involved in wound healing, usually have a poor prognosis, explained Dr Chris Tape, a senior author of the studies, UCL Cancer Institute.

After further investigating their findings in a second study, using over 2,500 mini-tumours grown from donated tissue from bowel cancer patients who had undergone surgery, researchers found that healthy fibroblast cells slowed down cancer growth and protected the cancer from chemotherapy.

“This happens really quickly, often within a couple of hours, so it’s easy to see why treatment fails to work. The cancer cells suffer damage, but they don’t die,” said Dr Maria Ramos Zapatero, a first author on one of the studies, UCL Cancer Institute.

Using a mass cytometry workflow and a new computational method known as TRELLIS, researchers embedded samples from cytometry to allow them to “map the landscape of different cancers under various treatment and culture conditions,” said Professor Smita Krishnaswamy, a senior author on one of the studies, Yale University.

To make the treatment more effective, researchers have suggested that finding ways to force cancer cells into a fast-growing state prior to chemotherapy could be more effective for patients.


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