Study reveals new insight to ‘shape-shifting’ cancer cells

Friday, February 10, 2023

The emergence and progression of most cancers is associated with the deterioration of multiple checks and balances in the biological control of human cells and tissues.

The process is driven by what scientists refer to as cell ‘plasticity’ - or the capability of cells to adopt new states and behaviors, sometimes dividing or migrating in ways that lead to the formation of cancer.

A collaboration between researchers at Yale and Johns Hopkins University has come up with a new way to quantify how genetic and external - ‘epigenetic’ - changes can lead to increasing cellular plasticity and cancer emergence.

Published February 10 in Science, the scholars analyzed a large body of published literature to propose a single quantitative framework to link together the genetic and epigenetic control of gene expression in a new and consistent way.

The analysis, by Andre Levchenko, John C. Malone Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Director of the Yale Systems Biology Institute, and Andy Feinberg, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Epigentics, further defines cellular plasticity and connects it to aging or organism development.

The results of the study suggest different scenarios of how new cellular states may emerge, and how cells continuously ‘shape-shift’ or ‘morph’ between states to escape treatments.

This analysis has the potential to uncover novel approaches for treating cancer based on controlling cellular plasticity and targeting cells in different states.