Tumor Traps

After surgery to remove a tumor, neutrophils recruited to the site spit out sticky webs of DNA that aid cancer recurrence.

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Kerry Grens

Kerry served as The Scientist’s news director until 2021. Before joining The Scientist in 2013, she was a stringer for Reuters Health, the senior health and science reporter at...

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GOTCHA: After surgery, mouse neutrophils send out a tangle of DNA fibers (green; with arrows) called extracellular traps that facilitate the return of a cancer.ALLAN TSUNG


The paper
S. Tohme et al., “Neutrophil extracellular traps promote the development and progression of liver metastases after surgical stress,” Cancer Res, doi:10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-15-1591, 2016.

The cure and the cause
For colorectal cancers that have metastasized to the liver, surgeons are often called in to remove tumors. But in the majority of cases, the cancer comes back. Allan Tsung, a cancer surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, suspected that the procedure itself—specifically, the body’s own healing response to surgical stress—might contribute to recurrence.

Cellular snares
Immune cells called neutrophils are first responders after injury caused by surgery. The cells are known to spew weblike DNA—a.k.a. neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs)—into the bloodstream. NETs...

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