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Researchers have uncovered a gene which could lead to new therapeutic strategies to target metastatic disease, one of the main challenges in the fight against cancer.
Localised cancer cells can often be surgically removed, but when the cells metastasise to sites away from the primary tumour, treatment becomes more difficult.
Scientists at the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Centre in the US have found that the gene, melanoma differentiation associated gene-7/interleukin-24 (mda-7/IL-24), causes an effect that kills cancer cells not directly receiving mda-7/IL-24, but without harming healthy ones. This effect is achieved through apoptosis, or programmed cell death.
The researchers also determined that mda-7/IL-24 induces tumour-specific killing through a process known as endoplasmic reticulum stress. The endoplasmic reticulum, or ER, is a subcellular structure that plays a key role in cellular protein disposition.
“Cancer cells cannot accommodate or recover from stress the way normal, healthy cells can,” lead researcher Professor Paul Fisher said.
“When the ER is stressed in this way, the result is an unfolded protein response which overloads the system and shorts out the cancer cell. This prevents tumour development, growth and invasion – and ultimately the cancer cell dies.”
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