Research Report: White blood cells promote growth, spread of cancer

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.

By Lynne Friedmann

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have shown a direct role by a type of white blood cell in the development and spread of cancerous tumors.

The work focused on neutrophils, bone marrow-derived cells that function as “first responders” in acute inflammation. Neutrophils promote the growth of new blood vessels in healthy tissue, however, in cancer patients a link was suspected between elevated neutrophil levels and high rates of tumor invasion.

TSRI scientists alternately raised and lowered the quantity of neutrophils flowing into two different kinds of early-stage tumors transplanted into chicken embryos and mice. In addition, several different versions of an enzyme, linked to tumor development, were introduced. Researchers established that the enzyme delivered by neutrophils was directly responsible for heightened growth of new blood vessels in the tumors. Just as important, the newly formed blood vessels served as “escape routes” for the spread of tumor cells.

Findings appear in the American Journal of Pathology. News release at

Synchronizing biological clocks

Biologists have long known that organisms from bacteria to humans use the 24-hour cycle of light and darkness to set their biological clocks. But exactly how these clocks are synchronized at the molecular level is less well understood.

To better understand the process, biologists and bioengineers at UC San Diego combined techniques from synthetic biology, microfluidic technology, and computational modeling to build a microfluidic chip with a series of chambers containing populations of E. coli bacteria. Within each bacterium, the genetic machinery responsible for the biological clock oscillations was tied to a green fluorescent protein. The bacteria glowed and blinked whenever a chemical, that triggered the clock mechanisms of the bacteria, was flushed through the microfluidic chip. In this way, scientists could simulate day-and-night cycles in mere minutes instead of days.

This simple circadian system enabled researchers for the first time to describe mathematically how cells synchronize their biological clocks. Findings appear in the journal Science. News release at

Slowing MS

Researchers at the UCSD Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences report that inhibiting immune cells from using fatty acids as fuel slows disease progression in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS).

MS is an autoimmune disease resulting from damage to the myelin sheath that surrounds and protects nerve cells. When the sheath is damaged, nerve impulses are slowed or halted, resulting in progressive physical and neurological disabilities. The cause is inflammation when the body’s immune cells attack the central nervous system (CNS).

Researchers looked at how immune cells in the CNS oxidize fatty acids for energy. Inhibiting a single enzyme that helps immune cells exploit fatty acids was shown to starve and kill target cells, preventing further inflammatory damage.

Findings appear in the journal Scientific Reports. News release at

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.

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Posted by Staff on Sep 7, 2011. Filed under Editorial Columns, Health & Science, Research Report. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “Research Report: White blood cells promote growth, spread of cancer”

  1. Good points are mentioned about the white blood cell that causes growth and spread of cancer. Thanks for sharing this post.

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