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Research conducted by McGill University Health Center and published in the recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation suggests white blood cells, which help the body fight off infections, may also spread cancer cells.

According to the research, Neutrophils Extracellular Traps, which is a process that traps pathogens in the body, also appears to activate cancer cells and may make the spread of cancer (metastasis) occur.

The Huffington Post reports: “researchers also found that using medication to disrupt this “web” seems to curb the spread and growth of cancer.” The spread of cancer cells was also researched in another paper published this year, reports the Post, “Using cells similar to cancer cells called neural crest cells and cells similar to healthy cells called placode cells, researchers found that neural crest cells “chase” placode cells when they’re put next to each other.

“In addition, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, published in the journal Cancer Research their identification of a protein that seems to play a role in the regulation of cancer cell spread to other parts of the body.”

Study researcher and director of the Division of Thoracic Surgery and Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer Program at the university, Dr. Lorenzo Ferri, said in a statement, “Our first clue of this association was from our previous research, which showed that severe infection in cancer patients after surgery results in a higher chance that patients will have the cancer return in the form of cancer metastasis.” He added, “This led us to investigate the cellular players in the infection, notably neutrophils, the first and most numerous of the white blood cells that are used by the immune system fight off infections.”

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Image: NIAID