Can turning off a gene prevent the spread of breast cancer?
Chances are you know someone with breast cancer; perhaps you are a survivor yourself or are going through treatment. Now, a new discovery gives more hope for those affected by the disease.
A study conducted by Ohio State University researchers has found that slowing the spread of cancerous cells can be done by switching off a gene responsible for cell migration.
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found a new link between cancer and a protein called myoferlin. When scientists tested mice with a highly-aggressive, fast-spreading breast cancer and turned off the gene that produces this protein, the cancer in the mice did not spread.
This type of tumor that does not spread is known as a self-contained tumor. This tumor’s cells are unable to migrate (also known as metastasize) without the help of the protein. When scientists turned off the gene that was responsible for producing the protein, the cells had no “getaway car” and the cancer was contained.
Senior author of the study, Douglas Kniss, said in a statement that “Theoretically, if a patient had a tumor in which the myoferlin level was low, it would be defined as small and a surgeon could remove it and it wouldn’t metastasize.”
Kniss said that the findings are true of most kinds of particularly dangerous cancers but further research is required to completely understand the effects of myoferlin.
Scientists are excited at the prospects of this discovery. They believe that with these findings they will be able to better tailor treatments to a patient’s needs. The research provides insight into the ability of cancer cells to migrate.
Experts say that diagnostic tools and treatments based on this study are still years away but the findings hold much promise for the ongoing fight against cancer.
“Breast cancer cells are dangerous when they develop the ability to break free from the primary tumor and travel to other areas of the body,” she says. “If those aggressive cells are rendered immobile, then we’ve taken away their ability to become dangerous and from their ability to metastasize to the lungs, liver or bone.”
Dr. Memmel says a development like this is very promising.
“It shows that we are making great strides in understanding the biology of breast cancer, and it helps us make progress in the war against all types of cancer,” she says. “Researchers have made some tremendous advancements in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in the last ten years. This recent development will hopefully change the way we view aggressive cancers.”
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