Look Out, Cancer Cells, Here Come 'Sticky Balls'

Cornell researchers develop promising technique to keep tumors from spreading

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 7, 2014 2:12 PM CST

(Newser) – It sounds ingenious: Cornell researchers have created roving proteins whose sole purpose is to destroy cancer cells in the bloodstream. If further tests hold up, this could offer a way to keep cancers from metastasizing, or spreading, reports the BBC, which uses the phrase "cancer-killing sticky balls" to describe what's happening. When unleashed into the bloodstream, these sticky balls—made up partly of a cancer-attacking protein known as TRAIL—hitch a ride on white blood cells. When the white blood cells bump into a cancer cell on the move, the cancer cell is destroyed, explains the Cornell Chronicle.

“These circulating cancer cells are doomed,” says the lead author of the study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “About 90% of cancer deaths are related to metastases, but now we’ve found a way to dispatch an army of killer white blood cells that cause apoptosis—the cancer cell’s own death—obliterating them from the bloodstream. When surrounded by these guys, it becomes nearly impossible for the cancer cell to escape.” The results were "dramatic," he says, though testing now needs to move beyond blood samples and mice. (Click to read about another health-related discovery.)

Stock image of a cancer cell.
Stock image of a cancer cell.   (Shutterstock)
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