Thursday, August 16, 2012

Taking the social approach to beat cancer

Social phenomena are getting increasingly popular on the internet. Many people are registered on social networking sites and the concept is also being used more and more by companies. Even research projects benefit from social attempts. Now, scientists think cancer should also be treated with regard for its social features. According to researchers from the Tel Aviv University, regarding cancer cells as a micro-community with the ability to cooperate will enable us to develop new ways to treat tumours.

A social war
Cancer cells have the ability to communicate with each other, similar to the ways bacteria do. In previous research, scientists already showed that microbes cooperate in order to launch a coordinated attack during an infection, something that requires a lot of communication. Apparently tumours do the same: the scientists tried to illustrate the similarities between organized bacterial colonies and badly behaving cancer cells, thereby arguing that approaches to combat cancer should be focused on their social behaviour as well.

Communication
An example of how malicious cells work together is a phenomenon known as metastasis. Cancer tries to spread itself throughout the body, and it does so by 'sending' a couple of cells on an 'exploratory mission' throughout the bloodstream. This requires communication between the cancer cells, something that can be disrupted, reducing the number of harmful metastasis. In addition, communication inside a tumour can lead to a distribution of tasks or sharing nutrients. It just goes to show how they all work together to make your life miserable.

Therapies
By regarding cancer as a social, albeit a bad one, phenomenon, new angles for novel therapies are opened. Disrupting the chemical signals required for cancer cell collaboration and communication may help impede a tumour's development. The intricate ways cancer cells interact with each other socially is a new concept in oncology, and it is interesting to find out more about how such processes affect disease progression. It will get even more interesting if such knowledge helps us to treat patients better.

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