The encapsulation of a tumor can be compared to the red spot that occurs around a splinter in your hand. Your body pushes the splinter out by wrapping it in protein fibers. The same thing happens when you develop a tumor, but we never fully understood the way this process works, or how this encapsulation is broken down if a tumor becomes malignant and cancer cells start to invade the body.
That's why the researchers studied a tumor in an animal model, in which they gave the protein fibers a fluorescent color. Using special microscopic techniques, they used light to color the existing protein fibers in the encapsulation red. New proteins that formed were green. As it turned out, the production of new green fibers would not always be large enough locally to repair the constant breakdown of protein fibers, leading to gaps in the encapsulation.
“At first, we thought that cancer cells may secrete proteins that could break down the encapsulation of cells. But this process turned out to be a little more complicated,” says Jacco van Rheenen. “In healthy tissue, you find a constant balance between the formation and breakdown of encapsulation,” he explains. “In a tumor, you will find a constant breakdown, but not always enough local production. As a result, gaps will form in the encapsulation.”
The new findings are important for research into possible new cancer treatments. Van Rheenen: “It is essential to have a better understanding of the development of cancer.”