Research published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution led by scientists from the Francis Crick Institute, Royal Marsden, University College London and Cruces University Hospital has found that cells from different parts of kidney tumours behave differently. The researchers have discovered that cells from the centre of a kidney cancer tumour are the most aggressive and are more likely to spread around the body.

When cancer cells spread to other parts of the body they can take hold in other distant organs and grow to form secondary tumours or metastases. When this happens, the cancer is much harder to treat. Understanding how cancer cells spread could lead to new treatments to stop the development of metastases.

The researchers, led by Dr Samra Turajlic from the Francis Crick Institute and one of KCSN’s trustees, analysed 756 cancer biopsy samples from the TRACERx Renal study. They looked at biopsies from different parts of kidney tumours and found that the cells at the centre of tumours are less stable and more likely to spread around the body. Cells at the edge of the tumour were less likely to spread and had lower rates of growth and genetic damage. They explained this by suggesting that cancer cells in the centre of a tumour lack blood supply and oxygen and have to adapt to survive. This makes them stronger and more aggressive.

The scientists also looked at how the cancer cells spread from the middle of the tumour by ‘jumping’ over other tumour cells. However, most tumour cells grow in the local area.

These findings are important for the development of treatments that target the core of the tumour to destroy the most aggressive tumour cells.

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