New guerrilla tactics could outwit cancer cells

September 5th, 2012 - 4:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 5 (IANS) Scientists may soon be targeting cancer cells ’social networking’ ability to outwit and destroy them, which grudgingly yield to treatment with drugs or radiation, but renew attacks later on.

Biophysicists and cancer researchers at Tel Aviv (Israel), Rice and Johns Hopkins Universities (US) are suggesting a new strategy, similar to guerrilla warfare tactics, to outsmarting cancer through its own social intelligence.

The army of these renegade cells communicate, cooperate and engage in collective decision making, to beat our immune system, the journal Trends in Microbiology reported.

“We need to get beyond the notion that cancer is a random collection of cells running amok,” said Herbert Levine, co-director of Rice’s Centre for Theoretical Biological Physics (CTBP) and co-author of the study that pulls together dozens of recent discoveries about the social behaviour of cancer cells, according to a joint statement of Tel Aviv, Rice and Johns Hopkins.

Study co-author Eshel Ben-Jacob, senior investigator at CTBP, said: “Cancer is a sophisticated enemy. There’s growing evidence that cancer cells use advanced communications to work together to enslave normal cells, create metastases (how cancer spreads from one organ to another), resist drugs and decoy the body’s immune system.”

Ben-Jacob, Levine and Donald Coffey, noted cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins, suggest that cancer researchers act like modern generals and go after their enemy’s command, control and communication capabilities.

Cancer cells have been shown to cooperate to elude chemotherapy drugs, much like bacteria that communicate and act as a team to resist attacks from antibiotics, said Ben-Jacob.

Some cancers appear to sense when chemotherapy drugs are present and sound an alarm that causes cells throughout a tumour to switch into a dormant state, he said.

Similar signals are later used to sound the “all clear” and re-awaken cells inside the tumour.

“If we can break the communication code, we may be able to prevent the cells from going dormant or to reawaken them for a well-timed chemotherapeutic attack,” Ben-Jacob said.

“This is just one example. Our extensive studies of the social lives of bacteria suggest a number of others, including sending signals that trigger the cancer cells to turn upon themselves and kill one another,” he added.

These findings were presented at a workshop titled “Failures in Clinical Treatment of Cancer” at Princeton University,in the US.

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