Research into cell-to-cell signalling mechanism may lead to new cancer treatments
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IMAGE: Cells with long cytonemes — the protrusions which carry Wnt protein. view more 

Credit: Steffen Scholpp / University of Exeter

Pioneering new research into the way in which cells communicate with each other could hold the key to unlocking new, improved treatment for life-threatening diseases, including cancer.

Various mechanisms exist for cells to communicate with each other, and many are essential for development. A team of international researchers looked at how one important family of signalling molecules – Wnt proteins, which orchestrate and control many cell development processes – are transported between cells.

Accurate transmission of Wnt signals is therefore incredibly important; however, the mechanism for this was previously unknown. It was discovered that cell protrusions called cytonemes. play an essential role in transmitting the signal to control the rate of cell division.

Professor Steffen Scholpp, Principal Investigator at the University of Exeter’s Living Systems Institute said: “These are very exciting times for cell biology. We are in the process of changing our understanding of cell communication in a tissue. In the early days researchers believed that signalling molecules are released from cells into the extracellular space, the area between cells, and diffuse randomly.

“This would mean that

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