“People think that inflammation drives cancer, but they never understood the mechanism,” says Michael P. Lisanti, M.D., Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University.
“What we found is that cancer cells are accelerating aging and inflammation, which is making high-energy nutrients to feed cancer cells.”
The researchers’ findings were published in Cell Cycle journal in three separate papers online June 1st.
What exactly makes a tumor grow and how can it be stopped? Focusing on this longstanding conundrum, scientists from the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson shed new light on how cancer cells speed up the aging of local connective tissue cells to cause inflammation, in turn providing fuel for the tumor to grow and even metastasize. Understanding the mechanisms of this process – similar to how brain and muscle cells interact with the body – could be useful in new drug development for treatment and prevention of cancers.
“We are all slowly rusting, like the Tin-Man in the Wizard of Oz,” Dr. Lisanti said. “And there is a very similar process going on in the tumor’s local environment.” In normal aging, DNA is damaged and the body deteriorates because of oxidative stress, which is interestingly induced by cancer cells in normal connective tissue in order to seep vital nutrients from it. Autophagy, the stress response induced by cancer cells in nearby cells that allow the cancer cells to be fed and grown, were previously discovered by Dr. Lisanti and his team. However, it was still unclear exactly how the cancer cells induced this stress. Even more puzzling was defining the relationship between the connective tissue and the way in which this ‘energy’ was transferred.
“Nobody fully understands the link between aging and cancer,” says Dr. Lisanti, who used pre-clinical models and tumors from breast cancer patients to study these mechanisms.
“[A]s you age, your whole body becomes more sensitive to this parasitic cancer mechanism, and the cancer cells selectively accelerate the aging process via inflammation in the connective tissue…” which explains why cancer ravages a spectrum of ages but becomes more prevalent with age.
One of the three published papers reveals a gene expression pattern associated with lethal tumors also associated with normal aging as well as Alzheimer’s disease. As a matter of fact, these aging and Alzheimer’s disease signatures can also identify which breast cancer patients will undergo metastasis. The researchers found that oxidative stress is a common catalyst for both dementia and cancer cell spreading.
“If lethal cancer is a disease of “accelerated aging” in the tumor’s connective tissue, then cancer patients may benefit from therapy with strong antioxidants and anti-inflammatory drugs,” states Dr. Lisanti. “Antioxidant therapy will “cut off the fuel supply” for cancer cells,” as well as have a natural anti-inflammatory affect on the body.
“Cancer Cells Accelerate Aging and Inflammation in the Body to Drive Tumor Growth.” E! Science News. E! Science News, 27 May 2011. Web. 13 June 2011. http://esciencenews.com/articles/2011/05/27/cancer.cells.accelerate.aging.and.inflammation.body.drive.tumor.growth.
How Blood Vessels Feed Tumors. Adapt. Betsy Mason. Wired Science. Wired.com C 2010 CondÃ© Nast Digital, 16 Apr. 2009. Web. 13 June 2011. http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/04/tumorvideo/.