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Targeting Cancer Cells and Environment Halts Tumor Growth

Update Date: Sep 19, 2013 05:51 PM EDT
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Targeting interactions between cancer cells and their environment may be just as important as directly targeting cancer cells with drugs or radiation, a new study suggests.

Researchers in the latest study wanted to find ways to fight cancer by targeting the local environment in which tumors grow and from which they draw sustenance.

Researchers looked the different interactions between cancer cells and their environment to see which ones were involved in promoting cancer.

Previous studies revealed utilized different types of cancers and different types of normal cells. Because those findings revealed a significant number of potential targets, researchers said it was difficult to know how best to proceed with the development of new therapies directed against the tumor environment.

The latest findings revealed that targeting many different signals between cancer cells and cells in the local environment had a greater inhibiting effect on tumor growth than when individual signals were blocked.

Researchers explained that even when focusing only on the signals between breast cancer cells and just one single cell type in the local environment, the majority of these signals seemed to promote cancer. Researchers said that each signal looked at in the study had a different impact on breast tumors: one contributed to cancer cell survival, another to proliferation, and a third to inflammation and the growth of local blood vessels.

"This tells us that tumor and normal cells interact as a complex network and that the hope of finding a 'single most important interaction' for therapeutic targeting is misguided," Scott Powers, Ph.D., an expert in applying genome-wide "big-picture" methods to the study of cancer, said in a news release. "When dealing with something that is this biologically complex, it is really important to assess the entire set of signals involved, rather than just one."

In light of the latest findings, researchers said that the fight against cancer can make significantly more progress by targeting multiple interactions between tumors and their local environment.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS Genetics

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