Scientists have identified the mechanism by which cancer is able to spread throughout the body, after discovering a cell movement process called "chase and run."
The findings, published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, detail how neural crest cells, which are similar to cancer cells, "chase" placode cells, which are equivalent to healthy cells, when they are placed next to each other. In turn, the placode cells "run away."
"We use the analogy of the donkey and the carrot to explain this behavior: the donkey follows the carrot, but the carrot moves away when approached by the donkey," study researcher Dr. Roberto Mayor, of University College London, said in a statement. "Similarly the neural crest cells follow the placode cells, but placode cells move away when touched by neural crest cells."
Even though the scientists didn't work with actual cancer cells, they explained that the process is likely comparable. They said that understanding this process could help them potentially find a way to target cancer cells before they spread -- metastasize -- to other parts of the body, which dramatically raises death risk for patients.
Recently, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, also gained some ground in understanding cancer metastasis in research published in the journal Cancer Research. Fox News reported on the finding, which showed that there is a protein that helps to regulate the actual spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body.
"The protein seems to get turned off (after embryonic development), and we’ve only identified a small sub-population of cells that can turn it on," study researcher Dr. Thomas Kipps, Evelyn and Edwin Tasch Chair in Cancer Research at UC San Diego, told Fox News. "By and large, we looked at the brain, lungs, heart, kidney and other organs, and it wasn't there. Then we looked at a variety of cancers -- breast, ovarian, prostate –--and it seems to be a common theme to express this embryonic protein."