Great news! It is hoped that new research on the spreading power of breast cancer cells will lead to the development of drugs to fight their migration.
The cells invade the body by “digging their escape route”, according to research published in the Journal of Cell Biology last week.
Scientists at the Cancer Research UK’s Beatson Institute in Glasgow have found that breast cancer cells puncture holes into neighbouring tissues and crawl through the spaces they create to spread around the body.
Within the cells they found high levels of a protein called N-WASP. This protein helps form branches with sharp points on the cell surface by rearranging the cell’s internal ‘skeleton’, made of a protein called Actin.
The pointed pseudopodia branches can grab onto and poke holes into the extracellular matrix, the supporting tissue in-between cells. The team also showed that enzymes attach onto the protrusions and dig into the extracellular matrix, creating larger spaces. Cancer cells invade their surrounding environment by a combination of pushing and pulling into the newly created spaces.
The scientists showed that removing N-WASP from cells resulted in much blunter protrusions, to which fewer enzymes became attached. This reduced the ability of the cells to puncture their surrounding extracellular matrix and spread.
Dr Laura Machesky, lead author, said: “Our research suggests that N-WASP is a promising target for the development of drugs to combat cancer spread. We were particularly intrigued because blocking N-WASP activity didn’t affect the healthy cells, so we think that N-WASP could be specifically targeted to prevent cancer spread.”
“This important research reveals fresh understanding of how cancer spreads, which will help scientists to translate discoveries into effective treatments to beat cancer,” said Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s spokeswoman.
Pictured: Sunny Times friend Mary-Anne Paterson, Arts Practitioner, who is closely involved with CancerKin, the charity which gives support for those affected by cancer.