Infection-fighting white blood cells play a role in activating cancer cells and
facilitating their spread, researchers in Canada say.
Senior author Dr. Lorenzo Ferri, director of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at
McGill University Health Centre, and colleagues from McGill University and the
University of Calgary used both cultured cells and mouse models of cancer to
show there is a relationship between infection, a white blood cell response, or
inflammation and metastasis, the spread of cancer.
"We are the first to identify this entirely new way that cancer spreads," Ferri
said in a statement. "What's equally exciting is medications already exist that
are being used for other non-cancer diseases, which may prevent this mechanism
of cancer spread."
A web-like network called Neutrophils Extracellular Traps is produced by white
blood cells -- neutrophils -- in response to an infection and this normally
traps and kills invading pathogens, such as bacteria.
"We demonstrated that in the case of infected animals with cancer, the
neutrophil web also trapped circulating cancer cells," first author Dr. Jonathan
Cools-Lartigue, a Ph.D. student from the LD MacLean Surgical Research
Laboratories at McGill University, said.
"Instead of killing the cancer cells, these webs activated the cancer cells and
made them more likely to develop secondary tumors, or metastasis."