Researchers have peered inside breast cancers toolbox and identified a set of rogue genes that accelerates the spread of cancer from its primary site in the breast to a secondary location in bone marrow. The genes identified by the scientists are distinct from those that spawn the initial tumor, which invites speculation about whether different cancers bear unique “gene expression signatures” that increase the probability that a cancer will spread in a process called metastasis.
Metastasis occurs when cells from a primary tumor break off and invade another organ. It is the deadliest transformation that a cancer can undergo, and therefore researchers have been looking for specific genes that propel metastasis. If they can identify distinctive metastatic gene programs for different cancers, it may be possible to slow or halt metastases by targeting the proteins produced by those genes.
In the June 2003 issue of the journal Cancer Cell, researchers led by Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Joan Massagué at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, published a report showing that breast cancer metastasis to bone is mediated by a specific set of genes. Massagué collaborated on the studies with colleagues from the University of Texas Health Science Center.
Jim Keeley | Howard Hughes Medical Institute
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