Scientists found that a protein common in human cells appears to switch on metastasis in cancer cells.
This discovery could help better understand the epithelial cancers like breast and lung cancer.
The study was published in the Journal of Cell Biology.
Cancer cells have a greater ability to migrate than normal cells in adulthood. This is how cancer establishes new, secondary tumors in other parts of the body which is responsible for 90% of cancer deaths.
The team from McGill University in Montreal, Canada focused on a protein called DENND2B. this protein appears to play an active role in the normal migration of cells.
The team found that DENND2B activates another protein in the cell called Rab13, which is an enzyme that promotes cell migration. Until this study, experts were unaware of how Rab13 was activated to initiate cell migration.
In many types of cancer, especially epithelial cancers, Rab13 is unusually highly expressed. This is the first study to consider experimenting with Rab13 in relation to cancer
Epithelial cancers arise in cells of epithelial tissue and account for the majority of cancers, including breast, prostate, lung, colon, ovarian, and bladder cancer.
The study found that DENND2B activates Rab13 at the leading edge of the cancer cell and this is an important point for cell migration.
Researchers injected aggressive human cancer cells in two groups of mice. One group of mice had cells with high levels of Rab13 protein while the other group was genetically engineered to lack the Rab13 gene, so they did not have any of the protein.
The discovery was that cells with reduced Rab13 levels, the cancer either did not grow at all or formed a smaller tumor. In addition, the smaller tumor did not metastasize into other tissue.
The team believes that this study will generate interest in using Rab13 as a target in cancer therapies. However they caution that there is still a lot of work to be done.