New York: Some cancer cells transform themselves from "economy model to a fast sports car" and breakaway from cells traffic jam to migrate to distant locations, aggravating the disease in the process, says a study.
Using a microengineered device that mimics the tissue surrounding a tumour, researchers were able to image cancer cells that had undergone epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT).
The EMT is a process in which epithelial cells, which tend to stick together within a tissue, change into mesenchymal cells, which can disperse and migrate individually.
Although, EMT is a beneficial process in developing embryos, recently it has been suggested that EMT might also play a role in cancer metastasis, allowing cancer cells to escape from tumour masses and colonise distant organs.
"People are really interested in how EMT works and how it might be associated with tumour spread, but nobody has been able to see how it happens," said lead author Ian Wong, an assistant professor at Brown University in the US.
"We have been able to image these cells in a biomimetic system and carefully measure how they move," Wong added.
The experiments showed that the cells displayed two modes of motion. A majority plod along together in a collectively advancing group, while a few cells break off from the front, covering larger distances more quickly.
"In the context of cell migration, EMT upgrades cancer cells from an economy model to a fast sports car," Wong said.
"Our technology enabled us to track the motion of thousands of 'cars' simultaneously, revealing that many sports cars get stuck in traffic jams with the economy cars, but that some sports cars break out of traffic and make their way aggressively to distant locations," Wong noted.
The study appeared in the journal Nature Materials.