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Cancer dormancy – how can we put cancer cells to sleep?

  • Researcher: Dr Angel Miguel Garcia Lora
  • Institution: Hospital Virgen de las Nieves, Granada, Spain
  • Award Amount: £165,096 for 3 years from 1st July 2015
  • Cancer Type: General Cancer Research
Cancer dormancy – how can we put cancer cells to sleep?
Over recent years, it has been demonstrated that the immune system plays a major role in fighting against cancer.  But cancer cells have developed tools to fight back and are able to escape the immune system surveillance.  When a tumour is detected in a patient, it is usually removed by surgery and diagnostic tests are performed to find metastases and determine if it has spread elsewhere.  If metastases are detected, the cancer is normally tricker to treat and a patient generally has a poorer prognosis. In some cases tiny metastases remain undetected and they can hide in the body, not causing any harm and just biding their time for many years or even decades until they decide it is time to strike again.  These are known as dormant metastases and the mechanisms involved remain largely unknown.  They have proven hard to study due to the difficulties in isolating dormant human metastatic cells and in developing animal models to mimic the process. Dr Angel Miguel Garcia Lora says there is hope, “We have developed a new metastatic tumour model in mice and dormant spontaneous metastases remain controlled by the immune system throughout the life of the animals. We now plan to use this cancer model to investigate the genes and mechanisms involved in cancer dormancy. The results will improve our understanding of the phenomenon of metastatic dormancy and how the immune system may control widely spread metastatic cells in dormancy. It would be great if our findings could be used to help manipulate other cancer cells to go to sleep and allow cancer to become a chronic disease that persists in a non-fatal form in a healthy individual. The results may open up new opportunities for targeting hard to treat cancers.”
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