Metastasis is a complex series of steps in which cancer cells leave the original tumor site and migrate to other parts of the body via the bloodstream or the lymphatic system. To do so, malignant cells break away from the primary tumor and attach to and degrade proteins that make up the surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM), which separates the tumor from adjoining tissue. By degrading these proteins, cancer cells are able to breach the ECM and escape. How this happens and what can be done about it was the subject of recent presentations by McGowan Institute faculty member Dr. Alan Wells and his colleagues.
Results of a recent metastatic breast cancer study by University of Pittsburgh graduate student Christopher Shepard and professor of pathology Alan Wells, MD were presented in Washington, DC, at Experimental Biology 2007. The researchers found evidence that once migrating tumor cells reach the site of a possible metastasis, they awaken a critical gene that had been asleep when the cells first became cancerous. Once the gene was asleep, the cells escaped their tissue of origin and traveled throughout the body. Once the cells made it to their new site of metastasis, the gene awakens and allows these cells to multiply and continue to spread. These results are significant in the continued search for answers to better understand cancer and its treatment.
Illustration: Breast cancer in a mastectomy specimen. –Wikipedia.
UPMC News Bureau, A Switch for Metasteses?
Oregon State University (OSU) recently invited Dr. Wells to be a Tsoo E. King Memorial Lectureship guest speaker. The biennial student-run lecture was organized by OSU third year biochemistry graduate students.
Dr. Wells’ lecture described how cell migration and tumor metastasis has been observed and manipulated by his lab and others in the country. Dr. Wells explained the next step in his research is to identify the specific chemical compunds involved in the processes observed by his lab. “With a better understanding of the chemical mechanisms involved, we will someday be able to turn aggressive cancer cells into less aggressive tumors or even a benign presence,” he said.
The Daily Barometer (05/11/07)
The Wells Lab