Alum's advances in cell biology at Yale spur Gettysburg research

John Pawelek ’63 is closing-in on how cancer cells travel in the body

Gettysburg College alumnus John Pawelek ’63 and a team of researchers have released a study that may answer the question of how cancer cells travel from the site of a tumor to other organs and tissues in the human body. 

The research team, comprising Yale Cancer Center scientists and colleagues at the Denver Police Crime Lab and the University of Colorado, has found evidence that a human metastatic tumor can arise when a leukocyte (white blood cell) and a cancer cell fuse to form a genetic hybrid. Their study was published in the peer reviewed online journal PLoS ONE

Their work explores a theory that was proposed as an explanation for metastasis more than a century ago. Until now, the theory was unproven in human cancer because genetic differences between cells from the same patient cannot be distinguished. 

“Our results provide the first proof in humans of a theory, proposed in 1911 by a German pathologist, that metastasis can occur when a leukocyte and cancer cell fuse and form a genetic hybrid,” said Pawelek, a member of the research faculty in the Department of Dermatology, Yale School of Medicine. “This could open the way to new therapy targets, but much work needs to be done to determine how fusion occurs, the frequency of such hybrids in human cancers, and the potential role of hybrids in metastasis.”

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