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Johns Hopkins researchers have discovered a new mechanism that explains how cancer cells spread through extremely narrow three-dimensional spaces in the body by using a propulsion system based on water and charged particles.
The finding, reported in the April 24 issue of the journal Cell, uncovers a novel method the deadly cells use to migrate through a cancer patient’s body. The discovery may lead to new treatments that help keep the disease in check. The work also points to the growing importance of studying how cells behave in three dimensions, not just atop flat two-dimensional lab dishes.
As reported in the article, the tumor cells’ new “engine” turned out to be a combination of sodium-hydrogen ions, cell membrane proteins called aquaporins, and water. The researchers found that within tight spaces, cancer cells create a flow of liquid that takes in water and ions at a cell’s leading edge and pumps them out the trailing edge, propelling the cell forward. In the actin-dependent migration model, the cell is pushed forward by the biochemical equivalent of a boat engine. The water-based mechanism, the researchers said, more closely resembles the way a sailboat is thrust ahead by gusts of wind. The team called this mechanism the Osmotic Engine Model.
Caption: This is an illustration of the newly discovered mechanism by which cancer cells are able to spread disease throughout the body. Credit: Martin Rietveld/JHU