In a scientific breakthrough, Tel Aviv University researchers have found a way to identify cancerous cells months before they develop into malignant brain tumors.
Even after tumors caused by melanoma—also known as skin cancer—are removed, metastatic melanoma cells can disseminate undetected to other parts of the body, including the brain. Once they reach the brain, patients are usually inoperable. But a study published in the medical journal Cancer Research was able to track how metastatic cells can take advantage of the brain’s natural response to damage or injury in order to spur their own growth. Dr. Neta Erez’s new findings would allow for early detection of brain cancers and permit intervention.
Dr. Erez, who led the study, told the Times of Israel that the initial dissemination period was like a “black box.” “We believe that we have found the tools to characterize this black box,” she said. “And this is key to developing therapeutic approaches that may prevent brain metastatic relapse.”
Erez and her team performed the study by monitoring mice at different stages of metastasis: melanoma diagnosis, tumor removal, cell spread, tumor discovery, and death. Erez is currently researching ways to block metastases.
“We’re hoping to develop the detection tools for humans that we developed in mice,” she said. “We’re also trying to find molecular targets that will allow us to prevent metastasis rather than trying to treat it.”