First Study on Physical Properties of Giant Cancer Cells May Inform New Treatments

Polyploidal cancer cells--cells that have more than two copies of each chromosome--are much larger than most other cancer cells, are resistant to chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and are associated with disease relapse. A new study by Brown University researchers is the first to reveal key physical properties of these "giant" cancer cells. The research, published online on August 9, 2018 in Scientific Reports, shows that the giant cells are stiffer and have the ability to move further than other cancer cells, which could help explain why they're associated with more serious disease. The open-access article is titled “Dysregulation in Actin Cytoskeletal Organization Drives Increased Stiffness and Migratory Persistence in Polyploidal Giant Cancer Cells.” "I think these polyploidal giant cancer cells (PGCCs) are the missing link for why tumors become so complex and heterogeneous so quickly," said Dr. Michelle Dawson, an Assistant Professor of Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology and Biotechnology at Brown and the study's corresponding author. "By understanding the physical properties of this weird population of cells we might identify a new way to eliminate them. Patients will benefit from that." Dr. Dawson, who is also an Assistant Professor of Engineering with an appointment in Brown's Center for Biomedical Engineering, worked with graduate student Botai Xuan and two undergraduate students on the study, which focused on a common strain of triple-negative breast cancer, an extremely aggressive and hard-to-eradicate kind of breast cancer. The researchers found that 2-5 percent of cells from this breast cancer strain were PGCCs with four, eight, or sixteen copies of each chromosome, instead of the normal two copies.
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