Date Published: 12 March 2009

Protein 'magnet' uncovers clue to cancer cell spread

Cancer Research UK

The destruction of a protein 'magnet' could lead to cancer cells breaking away from a tumour and spreading around the body, according to a study in Molecular Cell today (Thursday).

A team of Cancer Research UK scientists in Manchester have discovered that a partnership between two proteins, called Tiam1 and Src, causes a whole group of other proteins to be attracted to Tiam1 – like metal to a magnet.

They found that these proteins are programmed to destroy Tiam1, leading the scientists to uncover an important mechanism that contributes to the spread of cancer.

Tiam1 is normally crucial for preserving the links between cells which cause them to stick to each other.

Its destruction breaks the bonds between cancer cells allowing them to break free and spread around the body.

These findings could help scientists develop drugs that stop the destruction of Tiam1 and potentially stop the spread of cancer.

The researchers looked at the way proteins behave in epithelial cells – the cells that line the inside and outside of the body, like the skin and the lining of organs.

Dr Angeliki Malliri based at the University of Manchester's Paterson Institute who led the Cancer Research UK study, said: "We've uncovered a critical step in the process that breaks the links between cancer cells.

"Importantly, we've also shown that blocking Tiam1's destruction can prevent cancer cells from moving apart.

If we could mimic this effect in the cancer cells of patients, we would restore the links between cells and potentially stop cancer spreading."

Cancer is more likely to be successfully treated if the disease is caught early and has not spread.

A major focus for Cancer Research UK is understanding how and why cancer cells break away from the tumour and spread to other parts of the body.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said:

"The spread of cancer is the reason why some more curable forms of the disease can be fatal.

While we're yet to see if this research can be translated into drugs to stop the process, this adds to our understanding of this crucial area of cancer research."


Source: Cancer Research UK.

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