Most cancer deaths result from the tumor cells’ ability to divide uncontrollably. New research at the National Cancer Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has shown a potential weakness in these cells: cancer cells that become resistant to chemotherapy quickly grow and spread throughout the body. The discovery may lead to improved treatments for the disease.
Cancer researchers identified cancer cells that become resistant to curative therapies such as chemotherapy in part of the tumor microenvironment, or TME. Most cancer patients are treated with chemotherapy, a drug that warms up. Over the course of 10 years, the chemotherapy drugs kill thousands of cancer cells saturated with the chemicals that cancer cells use to survive out of certain treatments.
“Familial myeloid leukemia (FFML) is the most common form of leukemia in children, affecting about 9 million children in the United States,” said Shuxin Li, M.D., a post-doctoral fellow in the Vascular Biology and Stability Research Program at the Cancer Center of the Massachusetts General Hospital (CGCM) in Boston.
What Li and his colleagues measured was how many cancer cells with the Foli-induced Edema-Medullin 3 (ILE) gene became resistant and metastatic to other organs. The researchers found that correlated with how easily the cells had become resistant to therapy, there was little difference in the way they traveled through the TME.
In addition, the researchers discovered that the GIIE2 (GII3) gene, which has a not intact protein that helps keep cells in a stable and fight-like state, behaved in a similar way. Lab studies of cancers with or without that gene had changed behavior, Li said. Patients with both types of leukemia were more responsive to chemotherapy.