The Brain’s Defense Against Cancer Spread

BrainResearchers from a collaborative project based in Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and Howard Hughes Medical Center in Maryland have identified a method by which the brain shields itself from cancerous invasion. When one is diagnosed with cancer, a common concern is that the legion may spread to another part of the body. This process is known as metastasis. However, scientists have long been aware that most invading cancer cells are killed when they approach the brain.

The brain is not alone inside of the human skull. It is surrounded by a network of membranes known as the meninges. It is also bathed in a clear liquid known as cerebrospinal fluid. The scientists identified the brain’s neighbors as crucial roleplayers in the brain’s defense against metastatic cancer invasion. An agent known as plasmin leads this fight. Plasmin has the ability to trigger programmed cell suicide in the invading cancer cells. Furthermore, the agent is able to tell the brain that these cells do not belong, preventing them from spreading along blood vessels within the brain.

As a result of the project, the researchers have identified that many cancers have evolved to fight back against these plasmins, often producing chemicals that directly inhibit the beneficial effects of the guardian agent. Identifying these cancerous countermeasures is important, as preventing their expression may allow the body’s innate responses to succeed in destroying the cancerous tissues before they take root in the brain.

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