We are studying how cancer cells interact with healthy cells in the body and corrupt them to support tumour growth, with the aim of finding new ways to tackle the disease in the future.
Cells work together to form highly specialised tissues and organs in the body, following strict biological rules telling them how to behave. Cancer starts when cells break these rules. They start to misbehave and forget their correct role, growing out of control and spreading through the body (metastasising) to form secondary tumours.
We now know that cancer cells do not act completely independently. Instead, they send out signals that corrupt the healthy cells around them, encouraging them to create an environment in which the cancer cells can thrive. As a result, tumours are made not just of cancer cells but also from a variety of abnormally behaving host cells, creating the condition for cancer growth.
We are studying the interactions between tumours and healthy tissue to understand how ‘good’ cells turn ‘bad’. We want to find out more about the signals that cancer cells send and how they affect healthy cells. And we want to know how these signals might be sent to distant parts of the body such as the lungs, bones or brain, preparing the tissue for the arrival of metastatic cancer cells in search of new homes.
Cancer cannot grow and spread without the corrupt co-operation of healthy cells. If we can understand this process we can find ways to stop it, leading to the development of new, more effective cancer therapies.