July 9, 2009

Cancer, non-cancer cells have similarities

U.S. scientists say they have discovered cancerous and non-cancerous cells share similar structural abnormalities.

The Northwestern University-led researchers said although the cells appear quite different under a microscope, they used an optical technique called partial wave spectroscopy and found the similar features at the nanoscale level.

The scientists said their finding marks the first such discovery and validates the field effect -- a biological phenomenon in which cells located some distance from a malignant or premalignant tumor undergo molecular and other kinds of abnormal changes.

In another important finding, the scientists said abnormalities in the nanoarchitecture of colon cells are the same abnormalities as those found in the pancreas and lung, illustrating commonality across three very different organs.

Our data provide a strong argument that these nanoscale changes are general phenomena in carcinogenesis and occur early in the process, Professor Vadim Backman, the paper's senior author, said. These changes occur not only in cancer cells, but in cells far from the tumor site and are the same in at least three different types of cancer. Given its ability to detect these changes, PWS could be used in the early screening of a variety of cancers."

The study that included researchers from Chicago's NorthShore University Health System appears in the journal Cancer Research.