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May 14, 2019

Bone cells suppress cancer metastases

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, health

In breast cancer, there are cases of women and men whose cancer returns in their bones 20–30 years after they were treated for their primary disease and thought they were cancer-free. This phenomenon always puzzled Jefferson researcher Karen Bussard, Ph.D. How is it possible that breast cancer cells from a primary tumor are able to reach the bones when a patient is deemed “cancer-free” after treatment? What was happening in bones that allowed the cancer cells to remain there for up to 30 years, alive but in a sleeping state, only to re-awaken decades later? In a step towards answering these questions, Dr. Bussard recently discovered a type of bone cell that can subdue cancer cells, slowing their growth, even in one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer: triple negative.

The results, published in Breast Cancer Research, raise intriguing questions about how these exert their sleep-inducing influence, and whether it’s possible to replicate and permanently turn cancers dormant.

“Cancer has this uncanny ability to turn other cell types it comes in contact with to the cell’s advantage,” says Dr. Bussard, Assistant Professor of Cancer Biology at Thomas Jefferson University and a researcher at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center—Jefferson Health. “For example, cancer cells can turn the immune cells that should kill it, into its own guards. However, we have now found a population of bone cells that not only resists, but subdues the cancer. It’s fascinating.”

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