Researchers have found a critical element that may explain why some cancers spread farther and faster than others, a discovery that could lead to one of the Holy Grails of cancer treatment: containing the disease.
Scientists from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have identified a protein that seems to serve as a switch, regulating the spread of cancer from the primary tumor to distant spots in the body – a process known as metastasis. The protein is used by embryo cells during early development, but then disappears from the body after an individual comes out of the womb.
According to the researchers, the protein was only found in people with metastatic cancer, leading them to belive that the regulation of this protein could potentially stop the dangerous progression of this killer disease.
“The protein seems to get turned off (after embryonic development), and we’ve only identified a small sub-population of cells that can turn it on,” lead investigator, Dr. Thomas Kipps, Evelyn and Edwin Tasch Chair in Cancer Research at UC San Diego, told FoxNews.com. “By and large, we looked at the brain, lungs, heart, kidney and other organs, and it wasn’t there. Then we looked at a variety of cancers – breast, ovarian, prostate – and it seems to be a common theme to express this embryonic protein.”
Kipps said they stumbled upon this protein while conducting immunotherapy research on leukemia patients, in which they reengineered the patients’ leukemia cells and injected them into their bodies. This technique is meant to enhance the body’s natural immune response to cancer.