One of the most interesting types of stem cells is the epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) cell. For one, scientists has discovered that these cells may be the responsible for the spread of cancer. That’s only half of the story, though. Keep reading to learn more about epithelial-mesenchymal transition cells today.
Epithelial Mesenchymal Transition Cells | Their Role in Cancer Progression and Treatment
In This Article:
- What Are Epithelial Cells?
- What Are Mesenchymal Cells?
- Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition Basics
- Treating Diseases with Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition Cells
What Are Epithelial Cells?
To understand epithelial-mesenchymal transition cells, it is essential to know the difference between epithelial and mesenchymal cells. Let’s talk about epithelial cells first.
Epithelial cells are the cells that cover the outside of some of our organs. These include the stomach and intestines. These are the same cell that make up the skin. If you look at your arm, you are looking at epithelial cells.
There are three different types of Epithelial cells:
Together, they work to create layers that protect various areas of the body.
What Are Mesenchymal Cells?
Mesenchymal cells have different names. These are mesenchymal stem cells or adult stem cells. Regardless, these are cells that can become anything based on what your body needs.
For example, mesenchymal stem cells may develop into osteoblasts. These are the bone cells. They may also become muscle cells.
Stem cells have been a subject of intense medical research for this reason: they can transform into almost any tissue in the body.
Since they change, they may help doctors treat certain conditions. These include Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or lupus. Some studies even show they can treat certain types of cancer.
There are challenges, though. For example, mesenchymal cells do not always do what you expect them to.
Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition Cell Basics
In its simplest form, an epithelial-mesenchymal transition means the epithelial cells change to become mesenchymal cells. In some ways, that is good. There is such a thing called epithelial-mesenchymal transition for wound healing (type 2). Type 1 helps embryos in the womb develop organs and limbs.
The problem is, the epithelial to mesenchymal transition is a core element in the process of metastasis (type 3).
Metastasis is a process that refers to the development of secondary tumors. It means there are abnormal growths outside the primary site. One example of this is breast cancer that forms tumors on the lungs.
In the epithelial-mesenchymal transition, the epithelial cells lose their polarity. In other words, they do not bond together with the same cells.
Instead, they acquire migratory properties. They can move to other parts of the body. The cells break off as small tumor and travel.
Since they are stem cells, at some point, they become a specific kind of cell like what you find in the lungs.
These cells can complicate cancer treatment in many ways. First, they can avoid apoptosis (or cellular death). Second, they can lower the body’s defense against the tumors. They can also develop drug resistance.
Treating Diseases with Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition Cells
There is a silver lining. For one, researchers have already identified EMT biomarkers and EMT genes.
The identification of the biomarkers for epithelial-mesenchymal transition is important in developing a more targeted cancer therapy.
Some are developing assay platforms. These may be able to reverse the changes that affect epithelial cells. Simply put, they regain their polarity and lose their ability to migrate.
Some types of research show how epithelial mesenchymal transition cells can even help fix issues that lead to diabetes. People with diabetes may have sustained damage to the pancreas, which prevents insulin production.
Insulin works like a key that allows cells to take in sugar from the blood for energy. When the pancreas cannot make insulin, the cells do not get energy, and glucose builds up in the blood. Some studies suggest the EMT cells can help the pancreas heal by developing islet-like cells.
These EMT cells may be helpful in treating many other conditions as well. These include high blood pressure and kidney disease.
What happens during cancer metastasis? Watch this video from Ted-Ed:
The study on epithelial-mesenchymal transition is one of the most interesting aspects of stem cell therapy. The same cells that can heal may also result in the development of cancer. The good thing is that people are learning more and researchers are working hard to figure out the potential of these cells. This knowledge is critical in ensuring the EMT cells develop for the good of the body.
What do you think is the future of epithelial mesenchymal transition? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.