Researchers affiliated with UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute and Drew University have discovered a possible way that cancer cells communicate with other cells in the body. Their findings may lead to new treatments for cancer, aging and other diseases. Their findings were published online on January 28 in the American Journal of Translational Research.
The researchers have discovered a possible method by which cancer cells and dying cells communicate with nearby normal nerve cells without being physically connected to them. Senior author Dr. Keith Norris, UCLA assistant dean for clinical and translational science, explained that the study contributes to the understanding of cell communication, known to take place through direct contact or direct stimulation of receptors in the cells of molecules called ligands, or hormones, signaling factors, nerves and other pathways. He noted that it now appears that cells may be able to effectively communicate through physical barriers.
The investigators report how normal nerve cells isolated in an enclosed chamber behave during a function called calcium signal processing. They found that when the isolated nerve cells were surrounded by other normal nerve cells, they had the same calcium signaling properties. However, when normal isolated nerve cells were surrounded by cancer or dying cells, they processed the calcium signals differently, suggesting there was communication from the surrounding cancer or dying cells. The cells were separated by a physical barrier, which would prevent hormonal, ligand-receptor or other traditional forms of cell-to-cell communication.
Co-authors Dr. Christopher Reid and Victor Chaban of the Life Sciences Institute at Drew added that this interesting new finding may represent a potentially higher form of cell communication. Discovering that cancer cells and dying cells may have a previously undiscovered communication method with other cells may lead to new treatments for cancer, aging and other diseases. They note that further studies are needed to uncover how the non-physical communication occurs. “Understanding the many ways in which cells communicate is an important step toward developing new approaches to treat disease,” said Dr. Steven M. Dubinett, executive director of the UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute (UCLA CTSI).
The UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute is a dynamic partnership of four institutions: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, and the UCLA-Westwood Health Science campus. Its mission is to bring UCLA innovations to bear on the greatest health needs of Los Angeles and the nation. It is one of 60 such institutes nationwide funded by the National Institutes of Health.