A pioneering study sheds light on a still poorly understood aspect of cancer

The research from Politecnico di Milano has examined therapy-induced senescence in tumor cells

A new scientific study published in the journal Science Advances has investigated a still poorly understood aspect of cancer, therapy-induced senescence in tumor cells. The study, the result of collaboration between researchers from Politecnico di Milano, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the National Cancer Institute in Milan, and the National Research Council, expands our understanding of cancer biology and paves the way for future therapeutic advancements.

The team worked to uncover the biological mechanisms behind the formation of “therapy-induced senescent” (TIS) cells, a small percentage of treated tumor cells that exhibits resistance to conventional therapies (chemotherapy and radiation therapy), leading to tumor quiescence and ultimately, recurrence.

Researchers utilized advanced optical microscopy techniques, combining three-dimensional holograms of tumor cells with ultra-short pulses of laser light. They explored both the chemical and morphological aspects of TIS cells in human tumors, without the use of invasive techniques, preserving the natural state of the cells.

The research group was able to distinguish key features of TIS cells in human tumor cells: the reorganization of the mitochondrial network, overproduction of lipids, cell flattening, and enlargement. By analyzing a considerable number of cells, researchers established a clear timeline for the development of these distinctive signs.

Arianna Bresci, the first author of the study and a doctoral student in the Department of Physics at Politecnico di Milano, commented: 

This result is a clear example of how cutting-edge technologies, multidisciplinary expertise, and strong international collaborations are crucial in addressing the most pressing biological questions, such as the early reaction mechanisms of tumor cells to anticancer therapies.

Dario Polli, associate professor at the Department of Physics and the coordinator of the study, emphasized: 

Our findings provide important insights into the complex world of TIS in human tumor cells. In our laboratory at Politecnico di Milano, we have developed a new non-invasive laser microscope that has allowed us to understand the initial stages of this phenomenon.

This discovery may lead to applications in the development of personalized treatments and the possibility of refining current screening protocols for oncology therapy.

To learn more
The study published online
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