Can Controlling the pH of Tumors Prevent Metastasis?


Researchers belonging to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found that tumors with low pH regions alter the expression of genes in the cancer cells in such a way that makes them highly aggressive.
The paper which currently appears in a journal named Cancer Research, the researchers have described how this process can be reversed in the mice by a reduction in the acidity of tumors.
The acidosis of the tumor can promote the expression of certain molecules involved in migration an invasion of cancer cells.
The reprogramming i.e. an intracellular response directed against a decrease in the extracellular pH can provide the cancer cells with an ability to stay put in conditions of low-pH and still manage to survive.
Cancer Metastasis and the Environment of Tumors
Metastasis refers to a complex process through which cancer cells become mobile, get away from the primary tumors, surround the nearby tissues, and migrate to other parts of the body where they take the form of secondary tumors.
About 9 out of 10 deaths due to cancer are related to metastasis. Without it, cancer can be managed a lot more easily and will become a less severe disease.
Some time ago, the scientists strongly believed how the ability of a cancer cell to metastasize is dependent on the alterations to these cells.
However, the researchers learnt later that the malignant progression of these cells is also dependent on the cancer cells that directly participate in the intricate network of interactions with several other tissue parts normally surrounding them.
The scientists have developed an understanding that the tumors do not comprise mere collections of rapidly multiplying cells. In fact, they are living entities that have different parts. The complexity of cancerous tissue is even greater than that of a healthy one.
This study is, therefore, an addition to the knowledge regarding tumor microenvironments and their contribution to the metastatic processes.
Measuring the Tumor Acidity
Previous research has indicated that the acidity present in the tumor microenvironment has a powerful effect on the invasiveness of cancer. However, it was still not clear how acidity could vary in a tumor and how it could change the genes to make the tumor cells highly invasive.
Before this study, there was a common view that higher acidity in tumors occurred particularly in the areas that had no oxygen due to a poor blood supply.
To check this, the researchers utilized pH-probe for mapping the acidity levels in the breast cancer cells present in mice.
As the pH-probe finds a cell in the acidic environment, it inserts a tiny protein molecule through the cell membrane. In this way, the researchers can identify cells in the acidic regions of the tumors.
To the surprise, the team established that the acid regions were not only present in the oxygen-starved areas. The surfaces of these tumors where they were in contact with stroma was also found to have these regions.
This discovery has suggested that oxygen-starvation was not the primary reason for causing acidity in the tumors.

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Samantha Issac
Samantha is a graduate of Medicine with masters in Public Health. Most of her writings are in medicinal tools, technology, and treatments. In addition to that, she is a freelance healthcare writer based in the USA.


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