Researchers from the German Cancer Research Center and the Mannheim Medical Faculty of the University of Heidelberg are looking for new ways to prevent the metastasis of tumors. In the process, the team discovered a potential way of preventing the formation of metastases via the lymphatic system. The research results were recently presented in the journal “Cancer Discovery”.
The formation of metastases, i.e. the development of daughter tumors, is the greatest danger in cancer as well as the most frequent cause of death from cancer. The prevention of metastases is a central concern in cancer research. A German research group has now found a new method of potentially preventing metastasis of cancerous tumors.
Cancer cells can detach from a tumor and migrate through the body to form a new cancer elsewhere. Cancer cells have two routes to do this: the bloodstream and the lymphatic system – because virtually all cells in the body are connected to these systems. The blood vessels supply the cells with oxygen and nutrients, the lymph vessels transport cells of the immune system and tissue fluids.
So far it is unclear which way cancer cells prefer to metastasize. The new research work of the German Cancer Research Center brings some light into the darkness at this point. For the first time, the researchers are using mice to show the importance of the route via lymph vessels in the development of metastases and which biological mechanisms play a role here. The team also looked for ways to block the dangerous metastasis of tumor cells via the lymphatic system.
How do metastases develop?
In previous studies, it was not possible to investigate the spread of cancer in living organisms due to the complicated architecture of tumors. Hellmut Augustin and his research team have now developed a completely new animal model for this purpose.
“The key to this was a direct transplantation of tumor tissue from one mouse to another without prior cell culture,” explains the head of research. In this way, the natural tissue structure was preserved and the cancerous tumors were able to form functional lymph vessels that were connected to the lymphatic system. This is the prerequisite for lymphogenic metastasis.
With the help of the model, the researchers were able to document the formation of metastases via the lymphatic system in a living organism. For example, it was confirmed that the cancer cells first migrate to nearby lymph nodes. From there they attack other organs. The team also discovered that a certain messenger substance produced by cells in the outer wall of the lymph vessels ensures the survival of the migrating cancer cells. When the researchers blocked the so-called messenger substance angiopoietin 2, the cancer cells also died and significantly fewer metastases developed, which meant that the mice survived much longer.
How cancer spreads via the lymphatic system
“Surprisingly, we were able to effectively prevent the spread of tumors in the mice even when we blocked angiopoietin-2 only shortly before tumor surgery,” Augustin sums up. So far, the therapeutic effect has only been confirmed in animals. In the next step, the treatment will now be tested in humans. (vb)
With the new model, the researchers were also able to simulate situations that often occur after cancer operations: The tumor has been removed, but malignant cancer cells remain in the body, making a relapse possible. Blocking the lymphatic vessel messenger could also help in this case.
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