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Scientists Discover How Cancer Cells Spread

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Scientists from the Institute of Cancer Research in London and the University of Nice in France have joined together to research new treatments for cancer and they have discovered how cancer spreads.

When a protein called JAK becomes switched on, it triggers contractions in tumors which allow cancer cells to squeeze through tiny spaces and spread.
Tumors are made up of cancer, tumor-associated healthy cells and a glue that sticks everything together called the cell matrix. After JAK has been activated, a force is produced that is similar to a muscle contraction. This can then move them through the matrix and into other areas.

The tumor-associated healthy cells can also use this same force to create tunnels that the tumor cells can move down.

The study authors wrote, “Proinflammatory cytokines are frequently observed in the tumor microenvironment, and chronic inflammation is involved in cancer initiation and progression. We show that cytokine signaling through the receptor subunit GP130-IL6ST and the kinase JAK1 generates actomyosin contractility through Rho-kinase dependent signaling. This pathway generates contractile force in stromal fibroblasts to remodel the extracellular matrix to create tracks for collective migration of squamous carcinoma cells.”

There are already drugs that block the action of JAK that are currently in development so the researchers’ idea is to formulate a new treatment that will stop JAK’s ability to cause contractions and thereby halt the spread of cancer.

Lead author Professor Chris Marshall, 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.”

90 percent of cancer deaths occur when cancer spreads to other areas of the body, in a process known as metastasis, and the body is then overwhelmed. Finding out how the cancer spreads is an important breakthrough because it makes it easier to stop.

Dr Lesley Walker, from Cancer Research UK, said, “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.”


Scientists discover how cancers generate muscle-like contractions to spread around the body, Cancer Research UK. Web. 20 August 2011. http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/news/archive/pressrelease/2011-08-15-cancer-cell-spread?view=rss

Cancer Cell - ROCK and JAK1 Signaling Cooperate to Control Actomyosin Contractility in Tumor Cells and Stroma, Cancer Cell. Web. 20 August 2011. http://www.cell.com/cancer-cell/abstract/S1535-6108%2811%2900230-3

Reviewed August 22, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

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