Cancer prevention could be possible thanks to this unexpected discovery
The spread of cancer, or metastasis, has historically been one of the most significant hurdles in the treatment of the deadly disease. In metastasis, when cancer cells break away from a tumor, they spread throughout the body, infecting other organs and vital systems. The question of how these cells survive is closer to being answered, however, thanks to research being performed by Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).
This research “advances the knowledge of how two key molecules communicate and work together to help cancer cells survive during metastasis,” according to lead researcher Stéphanie Kermorgant, PhD. The research, published in May 2016 as an open-access paper in Nature Communications, reveals that molecules, known as “integrins,” could be the key to the cells’ survival by creating communication channels between the integrin, a protein that resides on the cell’s surface that attaches to and interacts with the cell’s surroundings. These communication channels carry signals called “outside in” and “inside out” signals, that help the cancer cells attach to their surroundings.
The key finding in this study, that of “inside-in” signaling, suggests that integrins are able to switch roles, changing from an integrin that adheres to its surroundings and communicates outside a cell, to one that signals within the cell. The QMUL researchers discovered that an integrin called beta-1 (β1) pairs up with another protein called c-Met and take up residence inside a cell together. The two proteins then move to a location within the cell that is normally partitioned so the cell can degrade and recycle cell material, and usurp that location for use as a communications base to signal the rest of the cell to resist against death while floating during metastasis.
The study opens up the possibility of a new strategy to prevent the integrin from entering the cell, which would encourage the design of better therapies against metastasis and more effective treatment combinations that could prevent and slow both tumor growth and spread.