Monday 15 August 2011
Cancer Research UK-funded scientists have discovered that a protein called JAK triggers contractions in tumours that allow cancer cells to squeeze though tiny spaces and spread, in research published in Cancer Cell today.
The collaboration of scientists from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London together with scientists in France at INSERM and the University of Nice showed that when a protein called JAK becomes ‘switched on’ it leads to muscle-like contractions in cells to generate the force that cancer cells require to move.
The finding raises the possibility that drugs targeting JAK could potentially stop the spread of tumours, called metastasis, which is responsible for 90 per cent of cancer-related deaths.
Tumours consist of cancer cells, tumour-associated healthy cells and scaffolding that sticks everything together called the cell matrix. Cancer cells spread by moving from the tumour, through this matrix, to new locations.
In some cancer types the cancer cells use force to ‘elbow’ their way through the matrix. The force is produced by a process similar to muscle contraction. In other types of tumours the tumour-associated healthy cells use force to create tunnels down which the tumour cells move.
The scientists showed that same processes are used to generate force in cancer cells and in the tumour associated normal cells.
Lead author Professor Chris Marshall, a Cancer Research UK-funded scientist from The Institute of Cancer Research, said: “There’s an urgent need to understand how tumours can spread from their site of origin, for example the skin, to other tissues, such as the lungs, liver and bone where the disease becomes more difficult to treat successfully.
“We’ve shown that the same protein called JAK triggers tumour spread via two different routes – it generates the force needed for cancer cells to move around the body and also for triggers healthy cells in tumours to create furrows in tissues down which cancer cells move.
“Encouragingly drugs that block JAK are already in development to stop the growth of tumours. Our new study suggests that such drugs may also stop the spread of cancer.”
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 tumours.
“Discovering how cancer cells can funnel grooves though tissues, to squeeze away from primary tumours and spread to new sites, gives scientists fresh understanding of ways to stop cancer spread - literally in its tracks.”
For media enquiries please contact Emma Rigby in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.
Notes to editors:
Sanz-Moreno et al. ROCK and JAK1 signalling cooperate to control actomyosin contractility in tumour cells and stroma. Cancer Cell.
The research team carried out the research in Professor Chris Marshall’s laboratory at The Institute of Cancer Research in London UK and Dr Cedric Gaggioli at INSERM and the University of Nice in France.
The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)
- The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre
- The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise
- The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe
- The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income
- As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction
- Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world
About Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research
- The charity’s groundbreaking work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives. This work is funded entirely by the public.
- Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates double in the last forty years.
- Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
- Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.
For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7121 6699 or visit www.cancerresearchuk.org