A new study by scientists at the University of California Berkeley suggests that putting pressure on lab-grown cancer tumor cells makes them behave like healthy cells. When suspended in gel in the lab, breast cancer cells can be compressed into orderly balls, as can normal breast cells. The genetics of the cells remain the same; they are still cancerous. However, squeezing them makes them act normally.
In order to return to normal behavior, a cancer cell must possess E-cadherin, a protein, on its surface. This protein helps form close bonds with neighboring cells. The study found that cells remained cancerous in the presence of antibodies that interfere with the protein.
Compression is not a promising technique for clinical use in human cancer treatment. However, researchers hope to produce a drug that effects the same changes in cancer cells as pressure. Forcing cancer cells to be noncancerous has the same end result as killing them, but presumably with less trauma to the patient.
Written by Alice Metz.