Blow to metastasis: they develop a drug that slows the spread of cancer.

A team of molecular biologists, computational biologists and clinicians from the University and the University Hospital of Basel (Switzerland) have published a study in the journal Cell in which they describe a drug that is capable of preventing the formation of metastases.

The development of metastasis is responsible for more than 90% of cancer-related deaths, and patients with metastatic disease are considered incurable. The interdisciplinary team, led by Nicola Aceto, of the Department of Biomedicine of the University of Basel, has identified this drug that suppresses the spread of malignant cancer cells and their ability to sow metastasis.

Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are cancer cells that leave a primary tumor and enter the bloodstream on their way to distant metastasis. These CTC calls can be found in the blood of patients as individual cells or groups of cells.

Swiss researchers have discovered that the formation of CTC groups leads to key epigenetic changes that facilitate the seeding of metastases. These changes allow these cell clusters to mimic some properties of embryonic stem cells, including their ability to proliferate and retain tissue-forming abilities. Scientists have also shown that these epigenetic changes are completely reversible after the dissociation of CTC groups.