Scientists discover how tumours hijack body’s wound healing process

17 December 2015

Fibroblasts

Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute and Institute of Cancer Research have discovered how cells that usually help repair wounds can switch from friend to foe - and instead escalate tumour growth and spread. 

Cells in our body are surrounded by a network called the matrix that gives tissues structure. During wound healing in healthy tissue, cells called fibroblasts repair damaged matrix. But when fibroblasts surround cancer tissue they change the matrix to favour cancer cell spread. 

The team discovered that cancer cells can trick fibroblasts into turning on a protein called Cdc42EP3. Too much of this protein makes fibroblasts stronger and better at moving the matrix - allowing them to reshape the area around the tumour. This enables the growth of blood vessels to the tumour - helping it get bigger and spread. 

Dr Erik Sahai of the Crick, said: "This exciting research reveals another way in which cancer can hijack the body's wound healing process to help a tumour grow and spread. This work will help us to find ways to stop cancer cells tricking fibroblasts into inadvertently nurturing them, in the same way as a wound that the body must repair." 

Nell Barrie, Cancer Research UK's senior science information manager, said: "One of the biggest challenges in successfully treating cancer is preventing it from spreading around the body, and keeping cancer that has already spread at bay. This research is a crucial step forward in our understanding of how cells surrounding the tumour can help cancer grow and spread - and provides new avenues of research to stop the disease in its tracks." 

The paper, Cdc42EP3/BORG2 and septin network enables mechano-transduction and the emergence of cancer-associated fibroblasts, is published in Cell Reports. 

  • Cells that usually help repair wounds can switch from friend to foe - and instead escalate tumour growth and spread, according to new research.
  • The team found that cells called fibroblasts that are usually involved in wound healing in healthy tissue can change the matrix - the network that surrounds our body's cells - to surround cancer tissue and help it to spread.
  • The work was funded by Cancer Research UK.