Breast cancer cells can be forced to become ‘harmless’ fat cells, say scientists

Breast cancer cells can be turned into harmless fat cells, early research suggests.

Scientists made the change by stepping in at a particular stage in tumour progression.

During this “window” cancer cells mimic a phase in embryonic development called “epithelial-mesenchymal transition” (EMT), which allows them to break away and spread around the body.

Left image shows untreated breast cancer cells (green) and fat cells (red). Right image shows (dark yellow) cancer cells that have converted into fat cells (Department of Biomedicine, University of Basel/PA)

Exposing human breast cancer cells transplanted into mice to two drugs while they were undergoing EMT caused them to change into fat cells.

One of the drugs was trametinib, a type of anti-cancer agent known as an MEK inhibitor, and the other was the diabetes drug rosiglitazone.

The effect was to suppress the growth of primary tumours in the mice and prevent cancer spread.

Lead researcher Professor Gerhard Christofori, from the University of Basel in Switzerland, said: “In future, this innovative therapeutic approach could be used in combination with conventional chemotherapy to suppress both primary tumour growth and the formation of deadly metastases (cancer spread).”

Forcing a critical mass of  cancerous cells to differentiate into fat cells could reduce  a tumour’s ability to resist chemotherapy, said the scientists, writing in the journal Cancer Cell.

- Press Association

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