The fibroblasts of healthy connective tissue around the tumor push cancer stem cells to spread the disease at a distance. Once the mechanism has been discovered a possible system has also been identified to neutralize it
As long as the tumor cells proliferate in their initial location, they hardly put the patient’s life at risk. The problem are distant metastases to be countered if a cure for cancer is to be made. This is why many research groups all over the world are committed to understanding the mechanisms that allow cells to break away from the tumor and reproduce it in other parts of the body. Understanding the phenomenon will perhaps be possible to find ways to inhibit it. An important result recently published in the Cell Stem Cell magazine was obtained by Ruggero De Maria, the scientific director of the Regina Elena Cancer Institute of Rome, as part of the AIRC program of molecular clinical oncology. De Maria’s group has discovered a molecule that has a difficult name to remember, CD44v6, but a role that is easy to understand: the CD44v6 molecule is responsible for the ability of cancer stem cells to migrate from the intestine and implant into other organs, giving place of relapse and metastasis and thus aggravating the prognosis of the disease; but the CD44v6 is also a kind of label that is on the surface of these cells and allows its presence to recognize them from the others.
“On the surface of stem cells of more aggressive colon tumors, which will give rise to metastasis, this molecule abounds, which is expressed only in very small quantities in primitive tumors” explains Giorgio Stassi, from the University of Palermo, who coordinated the work . “The paradox is that increasing the production of CD44v6, which then determines a negative turn of the disease, is not the tumor, but a series of substances, called cytokines, which are produced by the healthy cells of the surrounding connective”.
The research goes further: “We have also identified an enzyme, phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K), which is the Achilles’ heel of these cells and which can be blocked to prevent the formation of metastases”. Laboratory observation was also confirmed in the study with patients: those whose cells expressed the lowest CD44v6 levels survived longer.