Common feature of cancer cells may also be their Achilles' heel – Innovita Research

Common feature of cancer cells may also be their Achilles' heel

In a study using yeast cells and data from cancer cell lines, Johns Hopkins University scientists report finding a potential weak spot in cancer cells that have extra sets of chromosomes, the structures that carry genetic material.

The vulnerability is rooted in a common feature among cancer cells — the high protein concentrations within the cells — that make them appear bloated and overstuffed, and that could be possible new targets for cancer treatments.

Aneuploid yeast cells are on the left; normal yeast cells are on the right. Image credit: Rong Li and Hung-Ji Tsai

“Scientists are now thinking more about targeting the biophysical properties of cancer cells to make them self-destruct,” says Rong Li, a cell biologist and oncologist at the Johns Hopkins University. Further studies are planned to confirm the findings in animal and human cancer cells.

A report on the research, led by Li, is published in the journal Nature.

The experiments focused on an abnormality in some chromosomes known as aneuploidy. Normal human cells have a balanced number of chromosomes: 46 in all, or 23 pairs of chromosomes. A cell with chromosomes having extra or fewer copies is called aneuploid.

“Aneuploidy is the number-one hallmark of cancer,” says Li, and is found in more than 90% of solid tumor cancer types.

When cells gain chromosomes, Li says, they also get an extra set of genes that produce more than the normal amount of protein a cell makes. The excess can fuel growth abilities cells wouldn't normally have, sometimes allowing them to overgrow and develop into a tumor.

“This research uses a remarkable range of experimental methods to understand the basic physical properties of cells,” says Jennifer Weller, a program director in NSF's Division of Biological Infrastructure, which funded the research. “Identifying the correct subset of cells having a common characteristic pattern led to the discovery that they converge on a common measurable trait.”

Source: NSF