Research funded by Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, and published in Cancer Discovery, sheds new light on the molecular changes that convert harmless cells surrounding ovarian cancer cells into cells that promote tumor growth and metastasis. These cancer-supporting cells provide a novel target for treatment.
The study’s lead author, Anirban Mitra, PhD, was funded by and OCRF Ann Schreiber Program of Excellence Award; senior authors Ernst Lengyel, MD, PhD, and Marcus Peter, PhD were funded by an OCRF Program Project Development grant.
Ovarian cancer cells induce nearby cells to alter their production of three microRNAs—small strands of genetic material that are important regulators of gene expression. By changing gene expression, microRNAs can modify a cell’s function. In this case, they convert normal, healthy fibroblasts into cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs). These CAFs pump out chemical signals telling cancer cells to multiply, invade healthy tissues and travel to distant sites in the abdomen. Importantly, by reversing the microRNA signals the researchers were able to cause CAFs to revert to normal fibroblasts.
“These cancer-supporting cells provide a novel and appealing treatment target,” said Dr. Lengyel, professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago. “Cancer cells mutate rapidly, which enables them to develop drug resistance. But cancer-associated fibroblasts are genetically stable,” he said. “Their harmful behavior is driven by the microRNAs. Inhibiting those signals is a new way to fight this disease.”
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