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Scientists Discover How Stomach Cancer Spreads

Cancer-suppressing protein is impaired (Nov. 13)

Researchers at the University of Liverpool in the U.K. have found that the production of a protein that prevents the growth and spread of cancerous cells is impaired in patients with gastric cancer.

Cancer of the stomach is the second most common cause of death due to malignant disease worldwide. The new findings, however, could contribute to the development of future gastric cancer therapies aimed at restoring the functions of a protein called TGFßig-h3.

The protein is released by myofibroblasts, which form part of the supporting tissue around cancer cells. The environment of myofibroblasts, blood vessels, and other cell types allows cancer to survive and may constitute 70% to 90% of the total tumor mass.

Myofibroblasts are highly mobile cells that produce and release multiple substances that change cancer behavior by altering their environment, leading to the growth and spread of cancerous cells. The researchers have discovered that in tumors of patients with advanced gastric cancer, myofibroblasts interfere with the release of the TGFßig-h3 protein, which would normally inhibit the growth and spread of the disease.

Professor Andrea Varro explains: “This protein normally acts as an anchor to link cells to proteins in the cancer-cell environment, restricting cancerous cells to the vicinity in which they have grown. This allows targeting of treatments to the area — but in advanced stages of the disease, the effects of this protein are diminished, increasing the risk of the disease spreading to other parts of the body.”

Professor Varro hopes that the new findings will help researchers to develop future treatments that are based on restoring the functions of the TGFßig-h3 protein in patients with gastric cancer.

Source: University of Liverpool; November 13, 2012.

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