Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine have made a groundbreaking discovery related to spinal disorders and tumor metastases. In their study, published in Nature on September 13, they found that the vertebral bones that make up the spine are formed by a unique type of stem cell that secretes a protein called MFGE8. This protein is associated with tumor metastases, shedding light on why solid tumors often spread to the spine more frequently than to other bones. The findings could potentially lead to innovative orthopedic and cancer treatments.
The study identified a distinct vertebral bone stem cell responsible for forming the vertebrae, which is different from other bone-making stem cells. Using bone-like “organoids” created from vertebral stem cells, the researchers demonstrated that MFGE8, secreted by these stem cells, plays a significant role in the tendency of tumors to metastasize to the spine.
Dr. Matthew Greenblatt, the senior author of the study, explained that many bone diseases affecting the spine may be linked to the unique properties of vertebral bone stem cells. This discovery challenges previous assumptions about the origins of vertebral bones and their relationship to tumor metastases.
To investigate vertebral stem cells, the researchers isolated skeletal stem cells responsible for bone and cartilage formation from different bones in lab mice. They analyzed gene activity in these cells and discovered a distinct set of markers for vertebral stem cells. This confirmed that vertebral stem cells have unique properties, leading to the formation of spinal bones.
The study also addressed the phenomenon of tumor metastases’ preference for the spine over other bones. While traditional theories attributed this preference to blood flow patterns, the researchers found evidence suggesting that vertebral stem cells might be responsible. Removing vertebral stem cells eliminated the difference in metastasis rates between spine bones and long bones, highlighting the role of MFGE8, which is secreted in higher amounts by vertebral stem cells, in spinal metastasis.
The researchers collaborated with experts at the Hospital for Special Surgery to validate these findings in humans by identifying human counterparts of mouse vertebral stem cells and characterizing their properties.
Moving forward, the researchers are exploring methods to block MFGE8 to reduce the risk of spinal metastasis in cancer patients. Additionally, they aim to understand how the unique properties of vertebral stem cells contribute to spinal disorders, opening up new avenues for research and potential treatments in both orthopedics and cancer therapy.
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