Perhaps the greatest fear of any cancer patient is metastasis. According to Cancer.Net, metastasis is the process by which cancers spread throughout the body. Furthermore, according to Cancer.gov, “Metastatic cancer is notoriously difficult to treat, and it accounts for most cancer deaths.” However, a new study in Nature, as outlined in an article in The Scientist, unearths new truths about how cancer cells metastasize that could perhaps spark a new wave of research.
As stated in The Scientist, “Previous studies have shown how, counterintuitively, cells pick up the pace as they move through thicker solutions.” Recent studies have elaborated on this accepted facet of cancer reaction, and have discovered that Cancer cells have the ability to detect, and even memorize the viscosity of their environments. Researchers noticed that cancer cells initially exposed to viscous environments retained their speedy movement even after they were moved to watery environments, at a level not represented in those constantly in watery solutions, thus indicating a sort of memory of environment in cancer cells. This phenomenon of “cell memory” is similar to the memorization features seen in T-memory cells we discussed in class during the unit on the immune response.
Later, that same team of scientists released study that aimed to determine how cancer cells are able to move quickly through viscous substances. According to an article in The Scientist, “cancer cells move by taking up water at the front of the cell and squirting it out the back, propelling themselves like octopuses through narrow spaces.” Some researchers believe that new drug research could aim to target the ion channel that causes this transportation: TRPV4, but others are not so convinced. According to Miguel Valverde of Pompeu Fabra University, “Animal knockouts for the TRPV4 channels develop normally,” indicating that the newly discovered transportation mechanism may not be as essential as researchers may believe.
Still, the discovery of a new transportation method for cancer cells explaining its peculiar preference for viscosity is an important breakthrough, that will undoubtedly guide future research in cancer metastasis.