APR 17, 2016 11:05 AM PDT

Scientists Discover a Protein that Spreads Cancer

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
Virtually every type of cancer has metastatic potential – that is, the tumor cells can leave its original site and colonize other organs in the body. Metastatic cancers are responsible for over 90 percent of cancer-related deaths, and so knowing the mechanism behind this process has huge treatment potentials. Scientists have gotten one step closer to unraveling the metastatic process, as they have identified a key protein that functions in the spread of cancer.
 
Protein identifies aggressive cancer cells that can spread

The suspect protein is a Phosphatidylinositol Transfer Protein, also known as PITPNC1. Inside the cell, PITPNC1 plays a part in cell signaling and lipid metabolism. And inside tumor cells, researchers at Rockefeller University and the University of Bergen (UiB) think PITPNC1’s actions facilitate tumor cells to leave and migrate via the blood vessels.
 
Not all tumor cells are the same: some are more benign while some are more aggressive. It’s difficult to predict which cells are more deleterious, but knowing the propensity of these cells could allow doctors to act preemptively.
 
The team found that aggressive cancer cells produced more of the PITPNC1 protein. Specifically, the team found the highest expression of PITPNC1 isolated tumor cells that had metastasized from the breast, melanoma, and colon. In contrast, tumor cells that had not spread had lower expression of PITPNC1.
 
"We discovered that the aggressive cancer cells that are spreading in colon, breast and skin cancer contained a much higher portion of the protein PITPNC1 than the non-aggressive cancer cells," said Nils Halberg, a molecular biologist at the University of Bergen, and first author of the study. "This means we can predict which of the cancer cells are getting aggressive and spread, at a much earlier stage than today."
 
Molecular analysis of PITPNC1 indicate that the protein promotes metastasis by helping cancer cells produce and recruit other proteins that help it enter the blood vessels. “The protein PITPNC1 regulates a process whereby the cancer cells are secreting molecules, which cut through a network of proteins outside the cells, like scissors. The cancer cell is then able to penetrate the tissue and set up a colonies at new organ sites,” Halberg said.
 
Now that they have their target, the team is hopeful they will find drug candidates to reduce the risks of cancer metastasis. "If we get to the point where we can offer a custom-made therapy that targets the function of this protein, we might be able to stop it spreading," said Halberg.
 

 Additional sources: MNTUniversity of Bergen
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
SEP 14, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Why Defects in One Gene Can Lead to Cancer in Kids
SEP 14, 2020
Why Defects in One Gene Can Lead to Cancer in Kids
While they may occur in adults, a rare, aggressive type of brain cancer called atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumors tend to ...
SEP 21, 2020
Cancer
The Protein ETV1 May Act as a Biomarker for Gastrointestinal Cancer
SEP 21, 2020
The Protein ETV1 May Act as a Biomarker for Gastrointestinal Cancer
Cancer is an incredibly diverse disease. It has many types and even sub-types, with a vast range of characteristics. Som ...
SEP 20, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
New Drug Combo Prolongs Survival with Advanced Kidney Cancer
SEP 20, 2020
New Drug Combo Prolongs Survival with Advanced Kidney Cancer
Biopharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb has found that a new drug combination can reduce death rates among those ...
OCT 12, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Researchers Solve Key Problem for Cancer Immunotherapy
OCT 12, 2020
Researchers Solve Key Problem for Cancer Immunotherapy
Cancer immunotherapies are becoming increasingly promising as a standard-of-care treatment. However, despite their promi ...
NOV 16, 2020
Cancer
Fingerprinting Ginger Extracts and Testing Their Anti-Cancer Abilities
NOV 16, 2020
Fingerprinting Ginger Extracts and Testing Their Anti-Cancer Abilities
Modern medicine relies on careful study and isolation of compounds or proteins, but many studies point to natural herbal ...
NOV 23, 2020
Cancer
Platelets May Protect Cancer Against PD-1 Therapies
NOV 23, 2020
Platelets May Protect Cancer Against PD-1 Therapies
One of cancer’s greatest tools is its ability to manipulate the immune system. Many cancer therapies have arisen t ...
Loading Comments...