Breast Cancer: Metastasis Linked to a Protein That Can Be Deactivated

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Metastasis is a cause of death in cancer patients, and a team of researchers has just discovered that a protein can be deactivated and prevent metastases develop into aggressive types of cancer. Jean-François Côté is a researcher at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute (IRCM) and a professor at Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Medicine. He and his team have recently made this discovery and published their findings in the journal Cell Reports.

If their findings prove to work in clinical trials on humans, the prognosis of one in 30 women dying of breast cancer could be improved.

Cancer Cells Spreading In the Body – ‘Cunning Cells’

Tumors develop when cells proliferate and agglomerate in healthy tissue. Some cancer cells leave the tumors, explains Côté, who is also the director of the IRCM’s Cytoskeletal Organization and Cell Migration Research Unit:

“Sometimes, cancer cells manage to leave the tumour to spread in the body, which complicates the evolution of the disease.”

The cells that spread move easier than those that remain in the tumor. After detaching from the tumor, they enter the bloodstream and start reaching for organs like lungs, bones or brain. Destroying the metastatic cells is more difficult because they’re more resistant to treatment. The oncologists’ number one priority is to prevent tumor cells to spread through the body because 90% of the deaths from breast cancer are because of metastasis.

Blocking Metastases

Côté and his team have recently demonstrated that there is a protein – AXL, that influences metastasis in HER2-positive cancer. Cells that have high levels of AXL have more chances to detach from the tumor and cause metastases.

The study was conducted on mice with samples of tumor cells from patients with cancer. But even with no study on mice, statistics show that women with less AXL present have a better chance of survival.

“Based on this discovery, a treatment targeting AXL could reduce the risk of metastasis,” explains Côté.

There is a drug therapy that inhibits AXL, and the IRCM researchers have administered it to mice used in their study. They discovered that metastases were less likely to develop. At the moment, the drug is tested in different therapies, and if future tests are successful, this drug could treat patients with breast cancer, complementing the treatments that focus on the tumor.

Côté added that he and his team are still working in the lab:

“At the moment, we are checking whether the tumor’s environment, such as blood vessels and the immune system, is affected when AXL is inhibited.”

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere