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Identifying and characterising the cells in tumours of the mouth and lip that allow the development of secondary tumours

  • Researcher: Dr Salvador Aznar-Benitah
  • Institution: Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona)
  • Award Amount: £224,177 for 3 years from September 2013
  • Cancer Type: Oral Cavity and Lip Cancer
Identifying and characterising the cells in tumours of the mouth and lip that allow the development of secondary tumours
One of the main factors making tumours so dangerous is their ability to spread, known as metastasis.  Individual cancer cells squeeze between the normal cells nearby and push their way through the tissue.  They are then carried in the blood stream or lymphatic system and can form new tumours in other parts of the body, known as secondary tumours or metastases.  These tumours can stop key organs from working which can have dire consequences for the patient and make successful treatment much more difficult.

There is still much that scientists don’t understand about the tumour cells that are able to break away from the original tumour.  Dr Aznar-Benitah is therefore using his Worldwide Cancer Research grant to study these cancer cells in tumours in the lining of the mouth and lips.  The team have already identified a group of cells within these tumours that may be the cells of origin.  They are using this grant to further investigate what makes these cells unique from the rest of the tumour cells and what characteristics enable them to break away and start new tumours. 

The team will be using mouse models of the disease as well as studying cells from samples taken directly from human tumours of the mouth and lip lining.  As this project involves studying how cells move from the mouth and lip to other places in the body it simply would not be possible without the use of mouse models.  If Dr Aznar-Benitah is able to identify how these tumour cells break away and start new ones his team, or other scientists, could then work on finding ways to stop the process from happening.  If scientists were able to stop tumours from spreading, successful treatment would be much easier to achieve.
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