Predicting The Ability Of Cancer Cells To Spread

By monitoring the epithelial-mesenchymal transition, researchers are able to predict how aggressively a cancer will spread.

AsianScientist (Nov. 20, 2014) – Scientists have developed a scoring scheme that predicts the ability of cancer cells to spread to other parts of the body, a process known as metastasis. This system, which is the first of its kind, opens up the possibility to explore new treatments that suppress metastasis in cancer patients. The findings were published in EMBO Molecular Medicine.

Led by Professor Jean Paul Thiery, Senior Principal Investigator, and Dr. Ruby Huang, Principal Associate, both from the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore (CSI Singapore), the scientists developed a scoring scheme which monitors the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) mechanism.

The EMT mechanism has a varying impact on different populations of cancer cells as they respond differently to the EMT cues. Not every cancer cell will undergo the same degree of loss of cell adhesion ability or gain the ability to move spontaneously, which is known as motility. As a result, tumors from different patients will exhibit a wide range of differences in the status of their EMT. To determine with precision the EMT status of the tumor, the research team developed a quantitative modelling system.

In this study, the researchers used a total of 13,000 samples from publicly available databases containing gene expression information for more than 15 different types of cancers. A computational modelling scheme of EMT was established to define tumors having the most epithelial features and tumors having the most mesenchymal features.

Subsequently, the tumors were rated on a continuous spectrum of different EMT scores. Tumors with mixed epithelial and mesenchymal features are at the in-between state. This transitional state signifies cancer cell populations that might become truly mesenchymal. Patients who have tumors at this intermediate state may be at higher risks compared to those with tumors at the epithelial state.

Clinical information from the databases, including patient survival and treatment responses, were compared against the EMT scoring scheme. The research team showed that the EMT scoring they developed has a good correlation with previously published, cancer-specific EMT signatures.

They then went on to use this scoring scheme to establish an EMT spectrum across various cancers and noted good correlation between cancer cell lines and tumors. The scientists concluded that this scoring scheme may enable the objective and systematic investigation of EMT in cancer progression, survival and throughout the clinical response to therapy.

Dr. Huang said, “After announcing this generic EMT scoring scheme at an international cancer meeting in the United States, people came to me and thanked us for providing the field with a useful tool to help them determine EMT. Now, researchers no longer need to scratch their heads to find out what markers to use to represent EMT in their systems. We have provided the solution.”

“It’s about time that someone developed an EMT scoring scheme and we are very happy and excited that it came from our team,” said Prof. Thiery.

The scoring scheme has received interest from the scientific community and the team has started to compute EMT scoring for other researchers upon request. Currently, the team is developing a simplified diagnostic test to allow research or clinical labs to assess the EMT status of research or clinical samples.

The article can be found at: Tan et al. (2014) Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition Spectrum Quantification and its Efficacy in Deciphering Survival and Drug Responses of Cancer Patients.


Source: National University of Singapore.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

Related Stories from Asian Scientist