A new study at the University of Alabama found that dying cancer cells (specifically rare cells, called glioblastoma) send out messages to other cells when they are being hit with targeted therapy. The warning signal allows cells to build up resistance to treatment before it attacks them.

Cellular Communication and Treatment Resistance

When someone has a bacterial infection, like bacterial pneumonia or meningitis, they are treated with antibiotics. However, healthcare specialists are currently concerned about “superbugs,” or bacteria strains that are unaffected or less affected by the antibiotics scientists currently know about because the bacteria has adapted and changed.

Because of the University of Alabama’s recent study, scientists now know that this process of adaptation is happening, albeit on a much smaller scale, within a cancer patient’s body.

While scientists already knew that cells within a human body, including ones that have become cancerous, communicate with each other through a variety of methods, they did not know, and still do not know, every message that cells can send.

Warning Signals From Dying Cancer Cells

This new study has shed light on some of the potential messages that glioblastoma cells send when they undergo programmed cell death, which means they commit suicide.

Like many cells, when glioblastoma cells are no longer needed, they self-destruct and leave behind exosomes or vesicles—small membrane-bound sacs. However, the researchers at the University of Alabama discovered that unlike normal cancer cells, when glioblastoma go through programmed cell death, the exosomes they leave behind are quite dangerous to the patient.

This is because of what components and information these glioblastoma cells put in their exosomes when they die, which allows these tiny vessels to act as a warning system for other glioblastoma cells. They also carry vital information for the survival of the other cancerous cells.

Cancer Cells Adapt to Targeted Treatment

Specifically, the glioblastoma exosomes carry tiny biological components that help the cancer cells change and adapt to the targeted treatment the patient is receiving. When cancer cells adapt to therapy, it makes treatment less effective. It’s also harder for doctors to treat cancer using the same treatment methods for long periods of time.

Unfortunately, causing the targeted therapy to be less effective isn’t the only thing that glioblastoma vesicles do. The exosomes also hold information that tells the remaining glioblastoma cells to multiply and spread at a more rapid rate.

Not only do these rare cancer cells help the tumor become more resistant to treatments, but they also help the cancer spread further, even after the cells have died.

The Future of Targeted Mesothelioma Treatment

The ability of these cells to encourage other glioblastoma cells to spread and teach them how to survive in spite of different treatment methods is frustrating and discouraging. However, it’s an important discovery for researchers—especially those researching mesothelioma treatment.

Researchers can now look into whether or not mesothelioma patients have a higher concentration of glioblastoma cells than other types of cancers, and determine if that is why mesothelioma is highly avoidant and resistant to treatment.

Now that researchers know about cancer cell warning signals and adaptive behavior, scientists can focus on developing therapies that stop this communication. Then they can now add blockers to new treatments as or use them in conjunction with current therapies to make them more effective.

As the current standard chemotherapy treatment only works for about two-fifths of patients, researchers are hoping that targeted therapy developed from these results will lead to a decrease in treatment resistance.

For more information on mesothelioma research and targeted therapies, contact our Patient Advocates today. Call us at (800) 584-4151 or receive a FREE Mesothelioma Help Guide to better understand your mesothelioma treatment options for improving prognosis.

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Sources
  1. Hansen, J. "Dying cancer cells make remaining glioblastoma cells more aggressive and therapy-resistant." UAB News. Retrieved from: http://www.uab.edu/news/research/item/9543-dying-cancer-cells-make-remaining-glioblastoma-cells-more-aggressive-and-therapy-resistant. Accessed July 16, 2018.
  2. Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, et al. (2002). Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th edition. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK26873/. Accessed July 17, 2018.

Last modified: September 1, 2018