How Lung Cancer Spreads: Scientists Discover New Cell Mechanism

First Posted: Dec 26, 2014 12:39 PM EST

How does lung cancer spread? That's a good question. Now, scientists have taken microscopic images revealing that the protein ties tethering cells together are severed in lung cancer cells, which means that they can break loose and spread.

There are about 43,500 new cases of lung cancer in the UK each year. In fact, this cancer is the most common cause of cancer deaths and can kill more than 35,000 people in the UK each year.

Healthy cells routinely scrap old cell parts so that they can be broken down and used again. Yet this process spirals out of control in lung cancer cells, which scrap too many TIAM1 ties. TIAM1 is a protein which controls ties which lash cells together.

Yet understanding this recycling process could help researchers develop treatments to prevent lung cancer from spreading. Scientists, in theory, could keep the cells stuck firmly together instead.

"This important research shows for the first time how lung cancer cells sever ties with their neighbors and start to spread around the body, by hijacking the cell's recycling process and sending it into overdrive," said Angeliki Malliri, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Targeting this flaw could help stop lung cancer from spreading."

The new findings could be huge in developing future treatments for lung cancer. That said, it will take some time before these treatments are developed. Understanding the mechanism by which this cancer spreads, though, is an important step in the right direction.

The findings are published in the journal Cell Reports.

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