April 20, 2024

Breast Cancer Cells’ Cooperative Behavior May Contribute to Relapse, Study Finds

Research conducted by the NUS Centre for Cancer Research and the Department of Pathology at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore has uncovered a potential cause for breast cancer relapse. The study, which spanned over ten years, aimed to understand why some breast cancer cells survive chemotherapy.

The research team examined tumor and blood samples from 63 patients with breast cancer at different stages, as well as lab-grown breast cancer cells and laboratory models. They discovered that cancer cells with high expression of a molecule called miR-125b exhibited altruistic behavior by cooperating with surrounding cancer cells, allowing them to grow and resist chemotherapy.

Contrary to the common belief that cancer cells are only driven by their own survival, this study reveals that they can display self-sacrificial behavior to help other cancer cells thrive. Disrupting this cooperation could potentially lead to the development of more effective treatments for breast cancer.

Assistant Professor Leong Sai Mun, the lead author of the study, stated that targeting the cooperative behaviors between cancer cells is necessary to destroy them more effectively. Treatment methods should incorporate mechanisms that prevent surrounding cancer cells from benefiting from the self-sacrificing cells.

The research paper, published in Molecular Cancer, describes the complex signaling process within these altruistic cells, which contributes to the tumor’s resistance to treatment. Through a signaling pathway known as NF-κB, altruistic cancer cells with high miR-125b expression experience reduced proliferation. Paradoxically, this same signaling process prompts these cells to release proteins that foster greater tolerance to chemotherapy across the entire tumor.

Removing these altruistic cancer cells could be a potential treatment strategy. However, it is important to consider their persistence, as the study found that despite self-sacrifice, these cells can regenerate from non-altruistic cells and remain within the tumor population at a low frequency.

The research involved collaboration with various departments within NUS Medicine, as well as other organizations such as the National University Hospital, Nanyang Technological University, and the Pennsylvania State University. The study offers important insights into the biology of breast cancer, which could lead to a better understanding of its behavior and potential treatment targets.

These findings also have broader implications beyond cancer treatment. The mechanism of altruistic behavior observed in cancer cells resembles social bonds observed in microorganisms and animals. This understanding could provide insights into the interplay between social organisms in other diseases, such as those caused by bacteria or viruses.

Note:
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it