Jacco van Rheenen is one of the first in the world to film the behavior of cancer cells. He can, for example, closely monitor how fluorescent tumor cells leave the primary tumor to travel through the bloodstream. Then he sees how a small part of the migrated cells form metastases in other organs, such as the liver.
The next question is: what kind of cells are those cells that leave the tumor and start new colonies in the body? What are their molecular properties? If you understand that, then you understand the most dangerous part of cancer,' says Jacco van Rheenen. 'Because once cancer has spread, the prognosis for patients is poor.'
Van Rheenen also films healthy cells, which he gives a different fluorescent color than cancer cells. There are increasing indications that healthy cells in a tumor, such as immune cells and blood vessel cells, control the behavior of tumor cells to a large extent.
Together with other research groups at the AVL, he now uses RNA research to map out the molecular properties of all those diseased and healthy cells and links the results to previously collected data on disease and treatment of patients. With this, the researchers solve a piece of a complex puzzle: why do therapies work on one patient and not on another?
Jacco van Rheenen is Molecular Pathology Group Leader at the Netherlands Cancer Institute and Professor of Intravital Microscopy at Utrecht University. He also leads a research group at the Oncode Institute.
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