How do tumour cells survive in poor environments?

Tuesday, 08 May, 2018

How do tumour cells survive in poor environments?

Australian and UK researchers have been investigating the ability of tumour cells to survive and grow in spite of poor blood and nutrient flow — a mystery they claim to have now solved.

The scientists from Flinders University and the UK’s Newcastle University have systematically mapped the core genes and biological processes associated with the ability of cells to survive nutrient stress. They used high-throughput screening technology to identify genes that regulate fitness when cells are grown in a nutrient-rich environment compared to a minimal environment, with the results published in the Royal Society journal Open Biology.

Analysis of these genes identified a large number of biological processes including chromatin and transcriptional regulation, nutritional uptake and transport pathways. Of these processes, the researchers found that chromatin organisation-regulation, trans-membrane and vesicle-mediated transport play key roles in supporting fitness.

“It is likely that alteration in chromatin regulation, presumably to facilitate changes in the transcriptional regulation, along with changes in transport of nutrient, ion and vitamin, aid cell adaptation to limited nutrient environments — a key feature of cancer cells within solid tumours,” said Flinders University’s Associate Professor Janni Petersen, lead researcher on the project.

“This now paves the way to a molecular understanding of cell adaptation to the chronic and acute fluctuations in nutrient supply that all cells experience at some stage, and which is a key feature of cancer cells within solid tumours.”

According to Associate Professor Petersen, the comprehensive collection of molecular data can now be used by other researchers to search for solutions to tumour growth. She said, “We hope this list of conserved genes, which we identified by analysing the fitness/survival of starving yeast strains, will be used by other scientists to understand how cells cope with starvation in humans.”

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