Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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17 April 2018

Break Through

Cancer is at its most deadly when it gets itchy feet. As it spreads around the body (a process called metastasis), it becomes increasingly unmanageable. To leave one tissue, a cancer cell must break through the protective basement membrane that lines the edges like a city wall. They test for weak spots by prodding out microscopic battering rams called invadopodia. Eventually, these make a small hole in the wall, but how the cells then exploit this tiny gap was unclear. By directly filming a single cell over several hours, new research has identified a second protrusion (shown briefly spurting from a cell) that squeezes into the hole, then swells to enlarge the gap sufficiently. It turns out this fleeting bulge is prompted by a chemical cue called netrin, which is common in metastasising cancers. Figuring out how to block netrin just might help keep cancer in its place.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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