Scientists may have found a way to stop cancer from metastasizing

Metastasis is the main cause of death in cancer, and current treatments against it are ineffective. But new research may have found a way to slow down, and perhaps even halt, the spread of cancer cells.

Metastasis is the process by which cancer spreads throughout the body. During this process, cancer cells may either invade nearby healthy tissue, penetrate the walls of lymph nodes, or enter the surrounding blood vessels.

But new research may have found a way to control metastasis by inhibiting the migration of cancer cells. Stopping the cells from migrating is key in stopping metastasis.

What enables cancer cells to migrate is a set of protrusions that help them to move. The team of researchers – led by Mostafa El-Sayed, Julius Brown Chair and Regents Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech’s School in Atlanta, GA – managed to successfully cut off these protrusions using a special technique.

The findings were published in the journal PNAS.

Breaking cancer cells’ ‘legs’

The long, thin protrusions that help cancer cells to move are called filopodia. They are an extension of a set of “broad, sheet-like” fibers called lamellipodia, which can be found around the edges of the cell.

The suffix “-podia” (or “-podium,” singular) comes from the Greek language and means “something footlike.”

Essentially, lamellipodia and filopodia are tiny “legs” that help healthy cells to move within the tissue. But in cancerous cells, lamellipodia and filopodia are produced in excess.

The researchers used so-called nanorods, made of gold nanoparticles, to obstruct these tiny legs.

With the help of nanotechnology, scientists are able to reduce the size of certain materials to a nanoscale – with “nano” meaning the billionth part of a meter – at which point these materials start to show new chemical and physical properties.

Prof. El-Sayed and colleagues introduced the nanorods locally. The nanorods were covered with a coating of molecules, called RGD peptides, that made them attach to a specific kind of protein called integrin.

A cytoskeleton is the support structure of a cell, responsible for giving it a shape. It also has additional functions, with one of them being to form the filopodia protrusions.