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Researchers Discover Cancer Cell Movement In Tumors

August 17, 2011

Scientists say they have discovered a protein that enables cancer cells to move out of their tumor.

The research team, a collaboration of scientists from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London, together with scientists in France at INSERM and the University of Nice were able to show that when the JAK protein is “switched on” it causes muscle-like contractions enabling the cells to move.

This movement allows the cell to either “elbow” its way out of the tumor or it causes the tumor itself to form corridors down which the cancer cells freely move out of the tumor and into other healthy cells. This movement into other body cells is called metastasis, which is responsible for 90 percent of cancer-related deaths.

Professor Chris Marshall, the lead researcher, said, “There is a common theme of using force, force generated by the same mechanism, the same molecule, called JAK.”

JAK is not new in cancer research, it is also linked to leukemia and drugs are already under development that target the protein. “Our new study suggests that such drugs may also stop the spread of cancer. The test will be when we start to see whether any of these agents will stop the spread,” said Prof. Marshall.

Another researcher, Dr. Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said, “A huge challenge in successfully treating cancer is stopping it from spreading around the body, and keeping cancer that has already spread at bay. Most deaths from cancer are caused when cancer cells travel to different parts of the body and grow as secondary tumors.”

The research is published in the journal Cancer Cell.

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