The wing of a fruit fly may hold the key to unraveling the genetic and molecular events that transform a normal cell into a cancerous one. The study, conducted on Drosophila melanogaster by scientists at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and led by ICREA researcher Marco Mil-n, has reproduced each of the steps known to take place when a healthy cell turns cancerous. The researchers have thus provided an inexpensive and effective model that will allow the scientific community to scrutinize the genes and molecules involved in each step. Given that the vast majority of genes in Drosophila are conserved in mice and humans, the results obtained may also lead researchers to perform similar studies in more clinically relevant models. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS) has published the study online this week.
Argentinian scientist Andr-s Dekanty, a Juan de la Cierva researcher in the Mil-n lab and first author of the article, explains that "for the first time we have a genetic model that allows us to understand the events that take place, starting from when cells begin to accumulate genomic errors until the development of a tumour." The Mil-n team began by provoking genomic instability in a selection of cells in the fly wing. They then prevented these cells, with an aberrant number of chromosomes (aneuploidy), from succumbing to the cells' natural defense mechanisms so that they would survive. From there, they observed that the cells spread throughout the tissue, became mobile, activated the growth of adjacent cells, and degraded the basal membrane that kept them in place, allowing them to break free and even invade nearby tissues. "All of these events are things that we see in cancer. This fly model will therefore help us to identify each of the genes and molecules involved in epithelial cell detachment (delamination), motility, abnormal growth, basal cell degradation and invasion," says Mil-n.