A University of Manchester study found that embryonic stem (ES) cells can be used as a model to study cancer metastasize. Additionally, using ES cells, they discovered a unique role for the protein E-cadherin in the process.
As a tumor becomes more advanced, some ES cells were seen to change from epithelial to mesenchymal cells. “We have shown that ES cells spontaneously change in a manner that is remarkably similar to the epithelial-mesenchymal transition,” explains Chris Ward, Ph.D., faculty of medical and human sciences at Manchester and leader of the stem cell research group in the school of dentistry. “They lose the proteins that cells use to bind to each other and have other protein alterations that are characteristic of spreading cancer cells.”
The researchers point out that traditionally it has been difficult to study this transition in cancer cells as it only happens to a limited number of cells in a growing tumor. The discovery that it happens spontaneously in ES cells means that it can be studied more easily in the laboratory, according to the team.
Additionally, they also found that in ES cells, E-cadherin not only helped these cells stick together but it also blocked the action of another protein known to increase the mobility of cells.
The findings are published in Molecular Biology of the Cell.