Scientists try to track how cancer cells spread

August 25th, 2008 - 5:39 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Aug 25 (IANS) Bath University scientists have undertaken a three-year study into what glues cancer cells together and how they spread to other parts of the body.Cancer affects one in three people, with most cancer deaths being caused by the development of secondary tumours in other parts of the body.

This research, which has been funded by leading medical charity Cancer Research UK, may suggest new ways cancer could be treated in future.

Normal cells are glued together by junctions on their surface, but in some cancers these junctions are lost. This makes the cancerous cells more likely to break off and spread tumours to other parts of the body.

Andrew Chalmers and Paul Whitley, lecturers at the department of biology & biochemistry of Bath University, are studying how a group of proteins called ESCRTs are involved in the loss of these junctions in kidney and intestine cells.

“ESCRTs are like the recycling units of the cell; they oversee the constant intake, break down and replenishing of junctions on the cell surface,” explained Chalmers.

“In a cancer cell where ESCRTs are damaged, the junctions may not be restored properly; this can cause cells to separate and migrate to form secondary tumours in other parts of the body.

“Previous studies have shown a link between ESCRTs and the loss of junctions in cells of fruit flies, so we want to see whether this is also true in humans.”

During this three-year project, the researchers plan to block ESCRTs in cells grown in the lab to see the effects on the junctions. They will also be looking at whether mutations of ESCRTs are more common in certain types of cancer.

Paul Whitley added “this work should tell us more about the role of ESCRTs in cancer and provide possible new targets for therapy in the future.”

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