We are built from cells that form tissues and organs. The free-radical theory of aging says accumulation of cell damage from oxygen (ROS) generated in metabolism eventually ends the balancing act of life. Crudely, we rust faster than we repair.
Biological longevity is sometimes seen as a balance between cells that die too fast (senescence) and cells that reproduce too fast (cancer), but both are part of the same problem: the idea of antagonistic pleiotropy says that we animals have a hard time making structures which are effective in youth for growth and reproduction which also can handle cumulative (oxidative) stress of aging.
Increased cell reproduction (hyperplasia) of healthy cells is a normal stress response, but pushed too far it can becoming neoplasia, excessive cell growth (cancer). Under too much stress, especially among vertebrates if cells are not fairing well after prolonged inflammation, some can go on strike and stop playing a helpful role in a tissue. If cell demands for safety and sustenance are not met, some cells may start rioting, fending for themselves, reproducing too much, then breaking out and roving around the body in search of a better situation.
These metastatic cancer cells can be killed with various therapies, but new research shows that they might also be coaxed back into a calm state.
Scientists have turned some cancer cells into fat cells in mice. The image on the left shows cancer cells that glow green because they express a “green fluorescent protein,” and fat cells that are stained red, within a mouse tumor. The image on the right shows the GFP-expressing cancer cells that have been converted into fat cells. The converted cells appear dark yellow due to the combination of green and red colors.
Credit: Department of Biomedicine, University of Basel
Imagine if you could turn aggressive cancer cells into harmless fat. Scientists in Switzerland say they’ve done just that, in a new study in mice. By taking advantage of the “plasticity,” or adaptability, of certain cancer cells during metastasis, the researchers were able to coax breast cancer cells in mice into becoming fat cells. The scientists accomplished this using a combination of two drugs, both of which are already approved for use in humans by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The treatment didn’t convert all of the cancer cells into fat cells, but it did stop the cancer’s metastasis, or spread to other parts of the body, the researchers said.
… If future studies confirm the new work, the researchers believe that the therapy could be used in combination with conventional chemotherapy “to suppress both primary tumor growth and the formation of deadly metastases,” senior study author Gerhard Christofori, a professor at the University of Basel’s Department of Biomedicine in Switzerland, said in a statement.
This novel differentiation therapy is based on a combination of two drugs: Rosiglitazone, which is widely used to treat patients with diabetes, and Trametinib, which inhibits the growth and spread of cancer cells.
“In future, this innovative therapeutic approach could be used in combination with conventional chemotherapy to suppress both primary tumor growth and the formation of deadly metastases,” says Professor Gerhard Christofori.
Stories about things that might help cancer in the future do frustrate me because people need solutions for cancer right now, not 20 years from now. I’ll follow up with things that seem to work as I find them.