Surrounding Normal Cells Can Influence Tumor Growth

It was once believed that the two cells found within a cancerous breast tumor - rapidly growing malignant cells and the normal cells that surround them - existed independently, without interaction. However, evidence emerged indicating that normal-looking cells encouraged cells within the tumor to become malignant, but how they were influencing each other was not known.

A new study, led by Ohio State University researchers and published in the journal Nature, has begun to unravel the mystery between these cells. For the first time it was shown that the loss of a gene called PTEN from one of the surrounding cells can dramatically alter the tumor environment in ways that promote cancer growth.

Lead investigator, Gustavo Leone, stated, “Our findings reveal a new role for this gene in the tumor environment, which could lead to entirely new treatments for breast cancer and perhaps solid tumors using agents that target cells surrounding the tumor, as well as the cancer cells themselves.” The findings are also expected to improve the understanding of breast cancer and of other conditions that are influenced by local tissue environment such as autoimmune disease, lung fibrosis and neurodegenerative diseases.

To demonstrate the role the PTEN gene plays in cancer suppression, researchers removed PTEN from fibroblasts - a principle cell component of the tissue that surrounds a tumor – in the mammary glands of mice. They were astonished to find that PTEN regulates a second gene, called Ets2, which executes the changes that occur in the tumor environment when PTEN is lost.

Leone concludes, “Remarkably, this animal model mimics many of the features observed in human breast cancer. So it should help us evaluate experimental agents that might be used in combination therapies that target faulty cells in the tumor environment, as well as cancer cells.”


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