Metastasis signature found in cancer cells

August 05, 2005|By Delthia Ricks | Delthia Ricks,NEWSDAY

Some cancers possess a potentially deadly wanderlust that causes them to spread from one organ to another, and now scientists have unmasked the genes that trigger breast cancers to invade the lungs.

The finding is considered a landmark because it is proof that a specific genetic signature exists for each type of cancer and the organ to which it spreads.

Writing in the journal Nature, scientists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City say their finding helps unlock the long-kept secrets of metastasis, the reason cancers become dangerous.

In the experiment, specially bred mice with compromised immune systems were infused with human breast cancer cells from a patient who had widespread metastatic breast cancer, according to Dr. Gaorav Gupta, a lead investigator

"Using the [mouse] model, we identified a set of genes that we were able to show mediates this process," he said of cancer straying to a specific site.

Dr. Bruce Zetter, chief scientific officer of Children's Hospital in Boston, who was not involved in the study, said the research adds credence to an old theory.

"It demonstrates that there is a genetic signature that distinguishes metastatic breast cancer cells from nonmetastatic cells. This is something that has been proposed before, but this study shows it in an extremely thoughtful and careful manner," he declared. "They have found why a breast tumor is not only metastatic, but why it is particularly likely to metastasize to the lungs as opposed to the bone or other sites where breast cancer can spread."

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