Study Researches Cancer's Hiding Spots


"In a study conducted on mice with lymphoma, scientists discovered cancer cells that escape chemotherapy by hiding in the thymus, an organ where immune cells mature. In the thymus, cancer cells are covered in growth factors that protect them from the drugs’ effects. These cells are likely the source of relapse tumors.

The researchers, led by Michael Hemann, MIT assistant professor of biology, plan to conduct more tests on mice to determine if certain arthritis drugs interfere with at least one of the protective growth factors. This drug, or one like it, used in combination with traditional chemotherapy, could offer a one-two punch that eliminates residual tumor cells and prevents cancer relapse, according to the researchers.

"Successful cancer therapy needs to involve a component that kills tumor cells as well as a component that blocks pro-survival signals," Hemann, who is a member of MIT's David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research was quoted as saying. "Current cancer therapies fail to target this survival response."

In this study, the researchers treated the mice with lymphoma with doxorubicin, a drug commonly used to treat a wide range of cancers, including blood cancers. They found that during treatment, cells that line the blood vessels release cytokines- small proteins that influence immune responses and cell development."

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