Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Pressing Issue
08 November 2013

Pressing Issue

When a cancerous tumour grows, the swelling mass presses against the surrounding tissue, and the surrounding tissue pushes back. This means that tumours tend to develop under pressurised conditions. Researchers can mimic this restriction by growing cells inside little bubbles of jelly. As the encapsulated cells grow and multiply, the pressure builds until the cells in the middle die and those at the edges move more, seemingly desperate to escape their confined and nutrient-depleted environment. Once freed from the bubble these outer cells rapidly move away in all directions (right). In contrast, a blob of cells that hasn’t been grown under pressure stays spherical (left). Treating cancer is more difficult when it spreads. Rogue cancer cells tend to break away from the original tumour and start growing elsewhere, much like these fleeing cells. Finding drugs or treatments that can halt this spread may help combat cancer.

Written by Sarah McLusky

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