Washington: Scientists have discovered a bioelectric signal that can identify cells which are likely to develop into tumours.
Biologists at Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences also found that they could lower the incidence of cancerous cells by manipulating the electrical charge across cells` membranes.
"The news here is that we`ve established a bioelectric basis for the early detection of cancer," said researcher Brook Chernet in a statement.
"We`ve shown that electric events tell the cells what to do. The voltage changes are not merely a sign of cancer. They control and direct whether the cancer occurs or not," said co-author Michael Levin.
Bioelectric signals underlie an important set of control mechanisms that regulate how cells grow and multiply.
Researchers investigated the bioelectric properties of cells that develop into tumours in Xenopus laevis frog embryos.
The study hypothesised that cancer can occur when bioelectric signalling networks are perturbed and cells stop attending to the patterning cues that orchestrate their normal development.
Researchers induced tumour growth in the frog embryos by injecting the samples with mRNAs (messenger RNA) encoding well-recognised human oncogenes Gli1, KrasG12D, and Xrel3.
The embryos developed tumour-like growths that are associated with human cancers such as melanoma, leukemia, lung cancer, and rhabdomyosarcoma (a soft tissue cancer that most often affects children).
When the researchers analysed the tumour cells using a membrane voltage-sensitive dye and fluorescence microscopy, they made an exciting discovery.
"The tumour sites had unique depolarised membrane voltage relative to surrounding tissue. They could be recognised by this distinctive bioelectric signal," said Chernet.
Researchers were also able to show that changing the bioelectric code to hyperpolarise tumour cells suppressed abnormal cell growth.
The study will be published in the journal Disease Models and Mechanisms.