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Cancer Breakthrough May Lead to More Effective Treatments

Protein activation in noncancerous tissue may prevent invasion by cancer cells, researchers find

The University announced its findings on August 8. Details of the study were published in the European Molecular Biology Organization Journal.

Professor Dennis McCance, research leader, said: “Cancer spreads as the result of two-way communication between the cancer cells in a tumor and the noncancerous cells in the surrounding tissue.

“We already know that cancer cells are intrinsically programmed to invade neighboring healthy tissue. But the cells in the noncancerous tissue are also programmed to send messages to the cancer cells, actively encouraging them to invade. If these messages — sent from the healthy tissue to the tumor — can be switched-off, then the spread of the cancer will be inhibited.”

The research team discovered that retinoblastoma (Rb) proteins in noncancerous tissue have the ability to either open or close the communication pathway between healthy tissue and a tumor. Activation of this protein in noncancerous tissue leads to a decrease in factors that encourage invasion by cancer cells, preventing the cancer from spreading.

Rb proteins are found in both cancerous and noncancerous tissue. The importance of these proteins in regulating the growth of cancer cells from within tumors is well documented, but this is the first time scientists have identified the role played by Rb proteins in healthy tissue in encouraging or discouraging the spread of cancer.

“Our research has focused on cancers of the throat and cervix,” Professor McCance said. “But it is possible that Rb or other proteins in the healthy tissue surrounding other types of cancer may play a similar role in regulating the spread of tumor cells. Therefore, the implications of this discovery could go far beyond throat and cervical cancer, and that is something we plan to investigate further.”

For more information, visit the Queen’s University Web site.

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