Discovering how cancer spreads

Emil Lou Tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) are skyway-like extensions that allow cells to actively communicate with each other. Masonic Scholar Emil Lou, M.D., Ph.D., is working to demonstrate how TNTs facilitate communication between cancer cells and contribute to the development and growth of tumors.

So far, Lou’s team has shown that TNTs form between cells from aggressive cancers such as osteosarcoma, mesothelioma, lung cancer, and ovarian cancer. Their next steps are to examine key molecular and cellular functions responsible for forming and maintaining TNT connections between cells.

“Support from Minnesota Masonic Charities has been critical to this work, which is innovative in its approach to studying tumor physiology. It is high risk, but with potential for high reward.”

Lou—a U faculty member in hematology, oncology, and transplantation—hopes this work will lead to new ways of targeting cancer. “TNTs can serve as ‘intercellular highways’ for the back and forth transport of key signals in cancer cell growth,” says Lou. “If they are a vital pipeline for communication between tumor cells, then cutting off this line of communication may represent a novel therapeutic strategy.”

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