New Treatments to Combat Cancer Metastasis

By Grace Materne

Cancer originates from a specific location in the body; however, over time the disease often metastasizes, spreading and invading other organs and tissues. Cancer’s ability to migrate throughout the body is the reason the disease is so deadly. For the past several years, researchers have tried to identify a target molecule inside the cancer cells.

Recently, Professor Ye Zhang from OIST’s Bioinspired Soft Matter Unit discovered a technique to identify and immobilize cervical cancer cells. Zhang engineered a luminescent molecule consisting of a ruthenium complex core that recognizes lipid rafts in the cell membrane of cervical cancer cells. Lipid rafts float in the cell membrane, allowing for communication between the outside and inside of the cell. The rafts also interact with the cytoskeleton. The ruthenium molecule works by recognizing the lipid rafts and self-assembling on their surface: resulting in the rafts clumping together and the cytoskeleton becoming dysfunctional. Through this interaction, the cell becomes stuck in one place. The cell reacts, trying to move away; however, with every movement the cell becomes more immobilized by the clumped lipid rafts. In a final attempt to escape, the cell body expands and becomes stretched in all directions: eventually, the cell ruptures and dies.

Using a high-resolution scanning electron microscope, Zhang and his team have successfully observed this process in cancer cells. The next step is to see if the results are similar on real animal tumors. The researchers hope that in the future they can modify the molecular structure of the ruthenium molecules so the technique could be used to treat all types of cancer.


Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University. "New mechanobiology technique to stop cancer cell migration: Researchers have synthesized a molecule that targets the membranes of cervical cancer cells to block their migration." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 February 2017. <>.