The result of a groundbreaking discovery made by scientists revealed that breast cancer cells can be blocked from entering and hiding in the bones of mice, which is the only place where the disease can survive chemotherapy.
During the study carried out on a mice, Duke University researchers devised a means by which breast cancer cells can be flushed out of the bone marrow in mice, thereby making it easier to eradicate them for good.
The research findings as published in the journal of Science Translational Medicine, gives hope of similar trials to be carried out in humans. If this is achieved, then one of the most devastating characteristics of breast cancer can be prevented.
“Most often the site of the metastasised cancer is in the bone. Now we know how it is getting in.”
Breast cancer cells can reappear from their hiding place years after therapy and continue spreading to other parts of the body.
Findings from past research suggests that breast cancer cells can use bone marrow as a safe haven to hide from chemotherapy thus, lying patiently dormant for an extended period waiting for the right time to strike again.
However, up to now, little has been known about how metastatic breast cancer cells enter and hide inside the bones.
With the aid of real-time microscopy techniques, the Duke University research team tracked the migration of breast cancer cells through the bone marrow of mice and identified the protein that allows cancer cells to enter the bone marrow (E-selectin) and the protein that anchors them to the bone and allows the malignant cells to hide from chemotherapy (CXCR4).
When the mice was treated with an E-selectin inhibitor, the cancer cells were blocked from entering the bone, while a CXCR4 inhibitor forced them back out into the bloodstream.
An associate professor at Duke, Dorothy Sipkins, said: “Studies have found that breast cancer can be caught early and treated, and patients can have no signs of disease. Then five, 10 or even 15 years later, a patient can relapse.
“We also identified an important mechanism that allows breast cancer cells to remain anchored in the bone marrow.
“In the mouse, our findings could offer new strategies to intervene at the molecular level before dormant cells can take hold and cause relapse.”
While Sipkins said she hoped to conduct further studies in mice to have a better understanding of how breast cancer cells move through the body before moving on to human studies, the E-selectin inhibitor used in the research on the mice known as GMI-1271, is already being used in separate human clinical trials.