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New Clues to How Cancer Spreads

Healing cells called fibrocytes create niches in healthy organs where disease can spread, study finds

WEDNESDAY, July 30, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- New clues about how cancer spreads from one area of the body to another have been discovered by a University of North Carolina School of Medicine researcher.

Cells called fibrocytes -- which travel around the body and rush to the site of an injury to aid in healing -- may create "premetastatic niches" through which cancer cells can invade healthy organs, said Dr. Hendrik van Deventer, an assistant professor of medicine and a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

He worked with mice that lacked CCR5, a cell receptor that helps control migration of cells through the body. The mice were injected with all types of cells from normal mice in an attempt to make them form metastases of melanoma skin cancer.

Fibrocytes were the only kind of cells that had the desired effect. When the mice were injected with just 60,000 fibrocytes, the rate of metastases nearly doubled.

"That's a big effect for a relatively small number of cells," van Deventer said in a UNC news release.

He also found that injections of fibrocytes induced MMP9, an enzyme known to promote cancer.

The findings were published in the July issue of The American Journal of Pathology.

"This study shows it's possible for fibrocytes to form the premetastatic niche. But it stops short of proving they positively are the cells," van Deventer said.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about metastatic cancer.

SOURCE: University of North Carolina School of Medicine, news release, July 30, 2008
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