Gene discovery could shed light on how cancer cells spread

UK Scientists have discovered a number of genes which could play a major role in how cancer cells spread through the body. Scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute found that removing one of these genes from cells in mice significantly reduced the spread of transplanted melanoma cells.

Tumours that spread to other parts of the body are the leading causes of death from cancer. However the underlying mechanisms that control how cancer cells spread are not well understood.   The team, led by Dr David Adams looked at the spread of melanoma in mice and found that 23 genes were found to be involved in the spread of the disease around the body, 19 of which previously hadn’t been shown to have a role in this process.

In mice that were missing the gene Spns2, the resulting faulty signalling system increased the number of tumour-fighting immune cells that appeared in the lungs. This reduced tumour spread to the lungs by three-quarters, the researchers report in the journal Nature.

While it’s unclear whether the same processes are at play in people, Dr Anneliese Speak from the Sanger Institute said that developing drugs which target Spns2 could cause “advantageous changes to the immune system”.   “This work supports the emerging area of immunotherapy, where the bodies’ own immune system is harnessed to fight cancer,” she added.

To read more about this article please visit Cancer Research UK or The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.