It is known that in winter, bears hibernate to conserve energy when food is scarce. Until now, it was believed that hibernation was only reserved for certain animal species. However, a recent study published in the journal Cell reveals that cancer cells also enter a state of dormancy . They would do this to escape chemotherapy.
This discovery is crucial for researchers. Understanding how cancer cells work will indeed help find a way to effectively fight cancer. According to experts, hibernation of cancer cells could explain why cancer recurs in some patients.
After spending months, or even years, in a dormant state, cancers can sometimes resurface despite treatment.
A tumor that acts like an organism
These results were obtained after preclinical research carried out on human colorectal cancer cells. They found that during chemotherapy, these cells could slow down their activity and go into hibernation.
“The tumor acts like an organism, able to enter a slowly dividing state, thus conserving its energy to survive,” says surgeon and study author Catherine O'Brien of the Princess Margaret Cancer Center in Canada.
The latter indicated that cancer cells sometimes act like animals that go into hibernation to withstand harsh environments:
“It turns out that cancer cells enter the same state to ensure their survival. "
As part of this study, researchers exposed colorectal cancer cells to chemotherapy. It was then that they discovered that they were hibernating in a coordinated fashion for protection.
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A state close to embryonic diapause
To better understand hibernation in cancer cells, the researchers performed xenografting of colorectal cancer cells in mice. After this operation, the latter developed tumors of a certain size. The researchers then put them through standard chemotherapy for eight weeks.
They then observed a reduction in tumor growth throughout the treatment. However, when the chemotherapy was stopped, the tumor started to grow again. Cancer cells from this tumor were subsequently transplanted into other mice which again received treatment. The cells were still sensitive to chemotherapy and their growth stopped in the same way as in the first mice.
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This supports the hypothesis of scientists who have stated that cancer cells enter a state of dormancy close to embryonic diapause which is common in mouse embryos when they are in a survival mode. They are currently trying to find out how to permanently interrupt this hibernation to destroy cancer cells once and for all.