Cell fusion is one of the ways that tumors can gain abilities to become life-threatening and resist treatment, Melissa Wong, Ph.D., and colleagues first reported last year. The paper now is one of ten the journal Science showcases in a new special edition on cancer [pdf].
Wong is an associate professor and vice chair of the Department of Cell, Developmental & Cancer Biology in the OHSU School of Medicine, and co-director of the cancer biology program in the Knight Cancer Institute. She and co-authors showed that fusion of tumor cells with blood cells called macrophages occurs spontaneously in a number of laboratory mouse models, yielding hybrid cells with added powers to mobilize and form new tumors. And they found evidence that such fusions occur in people with cancer.
Fused cancer cells, when they are detectable in tumors, typically account for a fraction of a percent of tumor cells. Wong and colleagues found a striking exception when they looked at blood samples from human cancer patients. Among the tumor cells that make their way into the blood circulation, macrophage-cancer hybrid cells far outnumbered non-fused tumor cells.
“While they are pretty rare in primary tumors, in the blood circulation they are the dominant cancer cells,” Wong explained last year in the Cancer Translated blog.