When cancer cells metastasize, they morph, becoming missile-shaped in order to penetrate into other tissues throughout the body.
In fact, to travel throughout the body, metastatic cancer cells must change their phenotypes-;their physical characteristics. This change allows stationary, epithelial cells which compose the barriers of our organs and our skin, to morph into mesenchymal cells, or the cells that develop into connective tissue, blood vessels and lymphatic tissue.
Researchers have observed that cells that complete this transition, called epithelial to mesenchymal transition, or EMT, can significantly increase the likelihood that a cancerous tumour will metastasize.
Currently, the way scientists screen and identify these cells is by observing them while fixed on microscope slides. But the standard studies looking at cells immobilized on microscope slides cannot reveal their shape shifting, no more than pinned butterfly collections can reveal their flight pattern, University of Michigan researchers write. (DailyTrust)