Saturday, 2 February 2013

Endothelial cells promote cancer stem cell production

In a new study, a team of researchers from the University of Texas shows that endothelial cells have the potential to convert normal cancer cells into cancer stem cells, which are chemo-resistant and are the main culprit behind cancer metastasis. The study, along with additional research may one day help to create targeted treatments for metastatic colorectal cancer and other types of cancer.

The researchers worked on rodent models, multiple lines of colorectal cancer cells and tumour samples, and found out that endothelial cells activate, in a previously unknown way, the Notch molecular pathway signalling Colorectal cancer cells to transform into cells with stem cell attributes. Endothelial cells, are the cells forming the endothelium tissue which lines the interior surface of blood and lymphatic vessels.

Lee Ellis, senior author of the study, explains that these cells are resistant to chemotherapy and can create and sustain new tumour growths (metastasis).

"We've identified a new way that elements of a tumor's microenvironment, in this case endothelial cells, promote the conversion of malignant cells into cancer stem cells." Ellis, said.

Endoscopic image of colon cancer identified in the sigmoid colon

As mentioned before, the study's findings are based on many experiments carried out on human cells, mouse cells and living mice. Here are some indicating examples of these experiments:
  • Multiple experiments conducted on human cultured cancer cells showed that the presence of endothelial cells increased the number of cancer stem cells 
  • Experiments carried on mouse cells showed that cancer cells grown along with endothelial cells tend to form more cancer stem cells. This in turn resulted in the creation of more and faster developing tumour growths. 
  • A placebo-controlled mouse study showed that the presence of endothelial cells greatly increased the risk of metastasis. In the control group, only 3 out 0f 10 mice presented with liver metastasis whereas the group where the cancer cells were first conditioned with endothelial cells presented with liver cancer in 9 out of 10 cases .
  • Another experiment showed cancer cells cultivated along with endothelial cells exhibited higher survival ratio against chemotherapy. 
Ellis says that their study clearly shows that endothelial cells have many hidden functions and aren't just a means for delivering blood, adding that their data indicate endothelial cells seem to secrete larger amounts of cancer-related proteins than the cancer cells do.

Colorectal cancer (also known as colon cancer and bowel cancer) is a cancer that starts in the large intestine (colon), the rectum (end of the colon) or the appendix. Some common symptoms of colon cancer include anaemia, rectal bleeding, diarrhoea and sudden weight loss.

 It is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer in the U.S., accounting for more than 50,000 deaths on an annual basis.

Informational video about Colon Cancer

Lu J, Ye X, Fan F, Xia L, Bhattacharya R, Bellister S, Tozzi F, Sceusi E, Zhou Y, Tachibana I, Maru DM, Hawke DH, Rak J, Mani S, Zweidler-McKay P, & Ellis LM (2013). Endothelial Cells Promote the Colorectal Cancer Stem Cell Phenotype through a Soluble Form of Jagged-1. Cancer cell PMID: 23375636

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