Self-Eating Cells Provide Promising Cancer Research

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In tumor samples studied by the Babraham Institute at Cambridge, reveals a new mechanism that drives cell cannibalism offering probing insights into the field of cancer biology. Although this has been studied for over a century, little research has been devoted to this interesting field.

The process of cell-cannibalism scientifically referred to as entosis, occurs when one cell surrounds, kills, and digests another. This process does not typically occur in healthy cells, but rather is noted in the cells of tumors. The latest research on this cannibalism can be triggered by division within a cell when one divides into two. The uncontrolled division of cells is the key hallmark of cancer therefore, this cannibalism could oppose cancers effects.

The research of this involves epithelial cells which form many surfaces of the body and contribute to 80% of human cancers. These cells normally form strong bonds to the surroundings when they divide in the body. The study shows that weakened attachments result in a higher rate of this cell cannibalism. This can help to explain why drugs that make weaker cell attachments are effective at being anti-cancer drugs.

One of the initial authors on the paper, Dr. Jo Durgan stated “We set out to identify the proteins that control cell cannibalism in tumour cells, but by using time-lapse microscopy to watch this process in action, we stumbled across a completely unexpected new mechanism. The link we’ve found to cell division is really intriguing from the perspective of cancer.”

The cell cannibalism that has not been studied well at this point, has a complex relationship with cancer which we have yet to understand fully on whether or not it hinders tumor growth. The discovery that dividing cells have a higher rate of being cannibalized by other cells helps to suggest that entosis may be a viable option for preventing and reducing cancer.

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