“Cancer would not be so devastating if it did not metastasize,” said project leader Pradipta Ghosh, MD, professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine. This proliferation of invasive cancer cells from the tumor’s original location to other distant parts of the body is the reason why the disease is so deadly.
The research team identified a particular protein and its unique modification called tyrosine-phosphorylated CCDC88A (GIV/Girdin), only present in solid tumor cells. Analysis showed that this alteration could represent a point of convergence of multiple signaling pathways commonly hijacked by tumor cells during metastasis.
By using novel engineered biosensors and sophisticated microscopes to monitor the modification on GIV, they found that fluorescent signals reflected a tumor cell’s metastatic tendency. Single cancer cells could now be measured for metastatic potential and help to predict evolving tumor biology. This is what led to the development of Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) biosensors.
“It’s like looking at a Magic 8 Ball, but with a proper yardstick to measure the immeasurable and predict outcomes”, said Ghosh. “We have the potential not only to obtain information on single cell level, but also to see the plasticity of the process occurring in a single cell. This kind of imaging can be used when we are delivering treatment to see how individual cells are responding”.
It’s important to note that metastatic potential can come and go. Having this ability to predict their evolution can result in far better-personalized treatment for individual patients. For some, this could mean being spared from highly toxic therapies or the option to have precision medicine to target the metastatic cells.
This is an important step towards improving all cancer care, giving doctors superior imaging tools and greater positive outcomes for patients.