Measuring CTCs and macrophages to predict cancer metastasis

Oct. 26, 2021

As it is not typical to treat cancer that spreads, or metastasizes, to another area of the body, survival from metastatic disease is generally poor.

Researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio have a goal to do daily or weekly blood samples to monitor each patient’s risk of metastasis, indicating the need for aggressive therapy before cancer spread is established.

In the journal Cancer Research, authors, including Maria E. Gaczynska, PhD, and Pawel Osmulski, PhD, report that blood-borne seeds of cancer, called circulating tumor cells (CTCs), have specific properties that can be measured. For example, CTCs are sticky and glom onto other cells called macrophages while hurtling through the bloodstream.

Macrophages are infection-fighting cells that can be either pro- or anti-inflammatory. It turns out that both kinds can act as accomplices to cancer spread.

Both types of macrophage can extend the microenvironment of a tumor to the bloodstream — to CTCs, Dr. Osmulski said.

The study, conducted in human prostate cells provided by the Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center, indicated that the presence of macrophages, along with properties such as stickiness, can be an accurate biomarker of risk for metastasis.

Current studies utilize an atomic force microscope at UT Health Science Center San Antonio, but the researchers seek to simplify the process to make it a bedside diagnostic.

The finding about macrophages’ role in cancer is a key building block discovery; thus, Cancer Research selected the study to be on the cover of the August issue of the journal.

Visit UT Health San Antonio for more