Using different coloured fluorescent tags, scientists at the University of Bristol labelled immune cells and tumour-forming cells in the translucent zebrafish in order to track their behaviour and interactions by live cell imaging.
These dramatic findings, which are the result of a collaboration between academic colleagues in the UK (University of Bristol and University of Manchester) and Italy (Institute of Molecular Oncology, Milan) are published in the online, open access journal PLoS Biology.
Tests showed that cancer cells are less likely to proliferate if white blood cells can be prevented from contacting the precursor cancer cells, suggesting that white blood cells -- the immune cells -- have the ability to promote disease by providing some kind of growth signal. Interestingly, the chemical compound that acts as a draw between the two sets of cells was shown here to be hydrogen peroxide -- commonly used as a disinfectant or antiseptic, but also a natural by-product produced by the body's metabolic process.
Describing the work, Paul Martin, Professor of Cell Biology at the University of Bristol's Schools of Biochemistry and Physiology & Pharmacology, who supervised post-doctoral fellow Yi Feng in the research project, said: "By visualizing the earliest interactions between cancer cells and their host environment, we have shown that even from their earliest stages tumours don't just avoid being destroyed by the immune system. Rather, they appear to court an immune response, co-opting the body's innate immune system to aid and abet their growth."