Researchers find mini organs inside cancer cells resisting treatment

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Cancer cells death
Migration of cancer cells through holes of a matrix coated membrane simulating natural migration of a invading cancer cell. ( Credits - Wikimedia Commons)

All over the world, scientists are constantly trying to develop more effective ways to fight cancer. But as the search for a fast and painless cure continues, new diseases and their problems come up. Scientists have identified that some of the cancer cells have been developing their own set of mini stomach, small intestine and duodenum. This is an indication of the plasticity of the cells which leads to the possibility of tumors being resistant to the drugs used to treat them. The study has been published in the Developmental Cell journal.

Purushothama Rao Tata, principal author of the study and an assistant professor at the Duke University School of Medicine commented on the nature of the cancer cells. He said that the cancer cells will be doing whatever needed for their survival. Some of the infected lung cells on being treated with chemotherapy stop some of the important cell regulators and take up the characteristics of the other cells so as to develop resistance.

Professor Tata’s team focused on the study of lung cells which are infected with cancer. Researchers used the information from the Cancer Genome Atlas Research Network and found out that a very large number of the non-small tumors of cell lung cancer do not possess the gene which indicates lung lineage named as NKX2-1. But the cells did show many of the genes which are present in the esophagus and gastrointestinal organs. As NKX2-1 was absent, it allowed the cancer cells to take on the characteristics which are associated with the other cells. Even though they were present in the lungs, the cells produced digestive enzymes.

The gene NKX2-1 is like a master control which actually guides the gene network and sets up a course for the network of lung cells. For their own development and growth, they use the genes from the same set of parent cells which are present in the stomach. Hence as the master control was absent, scientists wondered if they could make the cells form tumors by doing some manipulation. So they did tweak the cells genetically, where besides knocking down NKX2-1, they also activated the oncogenes, SOX2, KRAS.

The research work found out that the mice which had mutations of SOX2 superimposed on them developed the kind of tumors which actually resembled those of the foregut. On the other hand, those with KRAS mutations developed tumors which resembled those of the mid and hindgut.

The research work shows that cancer cells can shift the order so as to develop resistance towards the treatment but the mechanism by which it occurred was not known. More studies are to be conducted which cement these findings and develop a treatment to combat it.

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