We often imagine cancer researchers probing what goes on inside the cancer cell. But Koch Institute faculty member Richard Hynes’ laboratory focuses on what goes on outside a tumor cell and how that influences metastasis, which is cells' ability to migrate through the bloodstream and form new tumors in distant organs. “Metastasis is what usually kills cancer patients,” he says, “so learning to prevent it could have profound benefits, turning fatal cancers into chronic illnesses. But metastasis is very complicated, so we started with a simpler problem of how cells stick to one another. That’s important because changes in cell adhesion allow tumor cells to leave their original home and settle in a new site.”
Hynes began studying the cell adhesion mechanisms of platelets, the sticky blood cells implicated in blood clots leading to heart attack and stroke. “Platelets are also important in metastasis,” he explains. “When platelets adhere to tumor cells, they change the cancer cell’s behavior in ways that promote metastasis.”
Around 2000 Hynes and collaborators showed that key adhesion molecules on platelets and on white blood cells were necessary for this promotion of metastasis, but the mechanisms remained unclear. “Around that same time, we used microarrays when they first came along to search for genes that were expressed differently in metastatic and non-metastatic tumor cells,” Hynes recalls. By the time post-doctoral researcher Myriam Labelle came to the Hynes lab in 2007 to study cancer progression, she could use the more powerful microarray technology in Stuart Levine’s laboratory to investigate exactly how platelets influence metastasis.
Posted November 28, 2012