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Gene controllers crucial for cancer spread

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by Cancer Research UK | News

10 February 2009

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Cancer Research UK scientists have pinpointed two proteins that work together to help cancer cells spread around the body, reveals a study published in Nature Cell Biology*.

Researchers at Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute have discovered that the proteins MRTF and SRF work together to control genes required for cancer cells to move, spread out, and adhere to surfaces.

The MRTF-SRF partnership is also needed for tumour cells to move within a solid tumour, a phenomenon that relates to their ability to escape into the bloodstream.

Crucially, MRTF and SRF are also required for cancer cells that have split from the tumour to exit the blood stream and form new tumours.

Dr Richard Treisman, lead author and director of Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute, said: “The ability of cancer cells to move around is a strong predictor of tumour spread. The MRTF-SRF network potentially provides a novel route through which to attack tumour spread by altering protein levels, rather than by directly interfering with the mechanics of cell movement.

“The work needs to be validated in real models of human cancer, but it will be interesting to see if MRTF-SRF pathway is a feasible target for drug development.”

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “When cancer cells break away from a tumour and spread around the body, it makes the disease very hard to treat. It’s important to invest in basic research like this – we need to understand the details of how cancer spreads to develop successful treatments.

“This important research adds to the bigger picture of a very complex process and we look forward to seeing if these proteins could be used as drug targets.”


For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.