Cancer cells turn to cannibalism

It helps them survive chemotherapy, study suggests.

This image of a breast tumour formed in mice and treated with the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin shows that some cancer cells (red nuclei) have been engulfed by other cancer cells (green cell membrane).

Tonnessen-Murray et al

Some cancer cells survive chemotherapy by eating their neighbouring tumour cells, according to new research.

Writing in the Journal of Cell Biology, a team from Tulane University, US, suggests this act provides the cells with the energy they need to stay alive and initiate tumour relapse after the course of treatment is completed.

Crystal Tonnessen-Murray and colleagues report observing this surprising behaviour not only in cancer cells grown in the lab, but also in tumours growing in mice.

Lung and bone cancer cells are capable of the same trick, they discovered, noting that finding a way to inhibit this process may provide new therapeutic opportunities.

A doxorubicin-treated senescent breast cancer cell (green) engulfing a neighbouring cancer cell (red).
CREDIT: Tonnessen-Murray et al

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