Stimulating the immune system in a certain way can cause immune-system
cells to surround tumors and stop them from growing, researchers have
found (Antonio Brú Espino, Environmental Sciences Research Center, Spanish
Research Council, email@example.com).
Demonstrated in mice, the finding is a direct result of applying a
new universal model of tumor growth developed over the last ten years
in a collaboration between scientists at the Spanish Research Council
and medical research centers in Spain. The researchers have evidence
to show that all tumors grow in the same way, irrespective of the tissue
or species in which they develop (Brú et al., Biophysical
Journal, November 2003).
In a previous paper, these researchers reported that tumor growth,
rather than being exponential as commonly believed, is a much slower
"linear" process similar to the growth of certain crystals and other
natural phenomena (Brú
et al., Phys. Rev. Lett., 2 November 1998).
Tumor cells, they have found, grow through the diffusion or migration
of cancer cells at the tumor's outer edges. Only the cells close to
the edge of the tumor proliferate--those inside the tumor do not, contrary
to previous assumptions. According to the researchers' observations,
cells formed at the edge of the tumor diffuse at the border of the tumor
mass until they settle in curved depressions where the competition for
space is lowest and where they are best protected from the immune system.
In their new paper, Brú and co-workers show that the mechanical pressure
exerted by immune-system cells known as "neutrophils" around mouse tumors
can prevent the diffusion of these cells and thus prevent tumor growth.
In 16 mice with a tumor mass in the muscle, the researchers induced
neutrophil production by administering an immune system booster known
as GM-CSF over two months. In a short time, they observed that GM-CSF
altered the growth dynamics of the cells. The tumors of two mice regressed
completely and 80-90% tumor-cell death was seen in the rest.
If the growth dynamics of tumors are universal, there is every reason
to be hopeful the same result could be obtained in humans. Knowing how
tumors grow, by cell diffusion at the surface, opens up the possibility
of developing new and far more efficient ways of preventing their enlargement
and spread. (Brú et al., Physical
Review Letters, upcoming.)