Harrowing Video Shows Metastasis, or the Spread of Cancer

Fagjun | Published 2017-07-07 04:21

New scanning technology can track the spread of cancer.
[Photo by Hiroki R. Ueda/Kohei Miyazono]

Biologists have found a way to track as well as record the progress of cancer metastasis in mice.

One of the things that make cancer deadly is the fact that it can spread throughout different parts of the body. Studying the way cancer spreads can help researchers figure out a way to improve cancer treatments. However, tracking the progress of cancer can prove to be difficult. This entails tracking every single cancer cell that forms in the body, which can be complicated since they spread throughout the body, and not all of them form tumors.

Fortunately, a team of researchers in Japan has found a way to simplify—in a sense—the process of tracking the spread of cancer. They developed a scanning technique that can make body tissues transparent, making it easier to track cancer cells as they travel through the body. This technique allowed researchers to see each cancer cell down to the microscopic level.

Watching the Progress of Metastasis

Researchers differentiated between healthy tissue and cancerous tissue by assigning different colors.
[Image by Prof. Hiroki R. Ueda (UTokyo/RIKEN)/Prof. Kohei Miyazono (UTokyo)]

The footage shows tissue in two different colors—green and red. Normal and healthy tissues are green, and cancer shows up as red spots and masses. The researchers engineered cancerous tissue to become fluorescent and injected it into mice. The cancer then progressed, after which the researchers used chemicals that can turn the mice's organs and body tissues transparent. Current imaging techniques that show the spread and growth of cancer also played a part in the research.

Thus, the researchers were able to get a clearer view of some important things about metastasis. For one thing, most of the cancer cells died while traveling through the body. Those that made it, meanwhile, traveled via blood streams and went through blood vessel walls to enter new tissues.

Researchers were able to discover that cancer cells that have a protein called TGF-beta were more likely to survive and become malignant. TGF-beta has a role in cell growth and differentiation in humans. Some cancers produce this protein in larger quantities. This is a significant discovery that can help scientists figure out better treatments for certain cancers.

Improving Treatments for Cancer

Cancer cells that survive can flow through blood streams straight to the brain.
[Photo by RIKEN]

It wasn't just cancer that researchers were able study with this new technique. Researchers were also able to study how anti-cancer medication works during metastasis, gaining a unique view into how medicine progresses through the body.

So far, researchers have only been able to test their newly-developed technique on mice in the laboratory. Perhaps with some more development, researchers will soon be able to figure out how to make the same technique work for humans.

Studying the spread of cancer can help medical professionals make the right decisions on what to do if cancer metastasizes. Cancer can be much easier to deal with and contain if it hasn't spread yet. Patients with cancer in just one location have a higher chance of being cancer-free. However, metastasis can make the cancer worse and a lot more difficult to get rid of. Thus, this research can be a step towards improving cancer treatments, even for those whose prognoses aren't as good as they'd like.

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