In the fight against cancer, Mayo researchers practice shape-shifting

It's pretty safe to say that Panos Anastasiadis, Ph.D., chair of Mayo's Department of Cancer Biology in Florida, will never look at a fried egg or starfish the same way again. He and other researchers at Mayo Clinic discovered that by changing the shape of cancer cells into those of a "round fried egg and an exaggerated starfish," they're able to stop the deadly cells from spreading through human tissue.

Glioblastomatumorcells760In research published in the December issue of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Dr. Anastasiadis and his research team say they found that "disturbing the balance" of proteins in cancer cells causes their shape to change, effectively "stopping them in their tracks." (That statement stopped us in our tracks.) In a video story produced by Reuters that's been picked up across the country,

Dr. Anastasiadis says it helps to think of the cell in terms of your car. "It has a front end and a rear end, and it has a direction in which it's going," he says of a cancer cell. "The cell needs to have a transmission; it needs to have a power source; it needs to have steering. All of those things are essential for it to go from one place to another."

But Dr. Anastasiadis and his team were effectively able to cut the engine by "disturbing the balance" of that cancer cell's proteins, and take all of that movement away. And that's important, and groundbreaking, when you consider that it's the spread, or "metastasis," of cancer cells that ultimately leads to the death of most cancer patients. "Stopping these cells from migrating could potentially provide a treatment that saves lives," Dr. Anastasiadis says in  a news release announcing the findings.

For their study, Dr. Anastasiadis and company looked at tumor material from breast and brain cancer cells, both of which can be lethal when allowed to spread throughout the body. They discovered that a protein called Syx is "key" to determining how those deadly cells migrate through the body. When they removed the Syx protein, the cells then "lost their polarity" and "morphed" into the shape of a fried egg or starfish, which Dr. Anastasiadis says took away their front and rear end, leaving them "unable to sense direction."

While the research may still be in its "infancy," Dr. Anastasiadis says its "promise is significant" for all cancer patients. "We plan to unravel the whole pathway that regulates how cancer cells sense their environment and move," he says. "If we can identify all the components … we can also pick the best way to halt its movement."

You can read more about the study here. Then, let us know what you think by sharing your comments on this story below.