Motivated by the social and survival tactics of bacteria, a research team from Tel Aviv University proposes new development of novel therapeutic approaches to target cell-to-cell communication.

Professor Eshel Ben-Jacob of TAU's School of Physics and Astronomy and Professor Herbert Levine of Rice University, long-time bacteria researchers, and Professor Donald Coffey of Johns Hopkins University, a renowned cancer researcher, found that for years, scientists have disregarded the social interactions of bacteria and "underestimated the enemy" when it comes to cancer cells that display similar behaviors.

Knowing that healthy cells are disciplined in response to chemical and physical cues, and knowing that bacteria cells override these cues using a different chemical and genetic pathway, Ben-Jacob suggests studying the social behavior of cancer cells.

Cancer cells are able to distribute tasks and share resources, differentiate and make decisions. Prior to directing cells to colonize organs and tissues throughout the body (metastasis), "spying cells" will explore the body and return to the cancer's original position. Then metastatic cells will leave its prior location and route to new areas. Similarly to bacteria, cells can change their environment. They can persuade their surrounding environment forcing other cells to provide physical support to the disease.

With a new therapeutic direction, the ability to change cell-to-cell communication or send misleading messages could break the communication code and assist researchers to learn how to reactivate them on purpose in order to be ready to kill them as soon as the cells "awaken."

The idea to send signals to spark cancer cells to kill each other, which can be done with bacteria, is often referred to as cancer "cannibalism."

Researchers from TAU, Rice University and John Hopkins University recommend there should be more research conducted regarding cancer cannibalism. However, additional research suggests teaching the immune system to outsmart cancer by injecting bacteria can help the immune system recognize and kill the tumor cells.

This study was published in the journal Trends in Microbiology.