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A cancerous tumor is one that has the deadly ability to spread uncontrollably to other parts of the body. If a tumor could be confined to its original location, it could simply be removed and cancer virtually would be nonexistent, says George Plopper, assistant professor of biology.
A small tumor can shed a million cells a day into the blood stream. Most of the cells die, but some of them survive and migrate to other parts of the body. Plopper is researching how these tumor cells reach their new destinations. His work could lead to new drug inhibitors or biomaterials that target the chemical composition of abnormal cells.
The extracellular matrix proteins and other materials that surround tissue cells provides a barrier to limit the migration of most normal cells away from their sites of origin. A distinguishing characteristic of cancer cells is their disregard for these tissue barriers.
Abnormal cells that pass these barriers end up in the blood stream. They reach their final destination at the end of a capillary, the one-cell thick blood vessels embedded in tissue that connect arteries and veins. At this stage, a tumor cell attaches itself to the endothelial cells.
Ploppers goal is to find out how tumor cells communicate with these endothelial cells. One possibility is that a protein secreted from a rogue cell may cut a path for that cell to enter its destination. The idea, then, would be to inhibit such proteins in specific cells.
Plopper is collaborating with Institute Professor of Science Ivar Giaever 64; Charles Keese 71, senior research scientist in biology; and George Edick, director of the undergraduate laboratory in biology.
|Rensselaer Magazine: September 2002|
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