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Computational scientists and oncologists working for the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have discovered that cancer stem cells control how tumours grow. The study may help improve the treatment of cancer patients.

Computational scientists and oncologists working for the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have discovered that cancer stem cells control how tumours grow. The researchers also determined the underlying mechanism. The study, which used computer simulations and laboratory experiments, may help improve the treatment of cancer patients. The results were published earlier this month in Cancer Research, a leading journal published by the American Association for Cancer Research.

Professor of Computational Science Peter Sloot, of the Faculty of Science, and Louis Vermeulen, a PhD student in the field of Experimental Oncology at the UvA's Academic Medical Centre, headed up a multidisciplinary group of researchers. The discovery that cancer stem cells control invasive growth and the identification of the underlying mechanism are particularly significant because that growth is one of the first stages in the manifestation of local metastases.

The structure of tumours

The computer simulations revealed that cancer stem cells in solid tumours might be the cause of changes in tumour structure, such as bulges. ‘Islands' of metastases appear outside the solid tumour and in turn appear to grow back toward the tumour. Laboratory experiments have confirmed these computational predictions. In the computer simulations, the researchers examined the rate at which the cells divide, how susceptible they are to oxygen deficiency and how the tumour stem cells diffuse and migrate. They also studied how the cells can ‘attach' themselves to each other and to tissue. They then examined the effects of therapy under various different conditions for the cell biology.

Sloot and Vermeulen's research provides more information about the fundamental characteristics of how tumours grow and how cancer stem cells affect that growth. The results of the study may also be relevant to the treatment of solid tumours. A better understanding of the dynamics of tumour growth and the location and formation of micrometastases will help doctors decide between radiation treatment and chemotherapy.