Protein Identifies Cancer Cells

I discovered an article written by Catharine Paddock, PhD who gives information on a protein that identifies cancer cells that are becoming aggressive and ready to spread to the rest of the body.  Researchers from Rockefeller University in New York and the University of Bergen in Norway, have reported their findings called PITPNC1 in the journal Cancer Cell.

Dr. Nils Halberg is first author and a molecular biologist at the University of Bergen who says they have discovered that the aggressive cancer cells that are spreading in colon, breast and skin cancer contains a higher portion of the protein PITPNC1 than the non-aggressive cancer cells.

Metastasis causes over 90% of deaths to cancer as the aggressive cells leave the original tumor and travel to other parts of the body to begin new tumors.  New discoveries about this process could help us get closer to saving millions of lives.

Metastatic cancer cells generally look similar to the cells of the original tumor when viewed under a microscope.  The metastatic cancer cells, and also cells of the original cancer, often share some molecular features, such as the expression of certain proteins.

According to Dr. Halberg there are many different kinds of cells inside a tumor, and even though some are benign, others become aggressive and spread.  Predicting which cells become aggressive is very hard to predict.  All cancers can form metastatic tumors and the most common sites for these are the bone, liver and lung.  If someone is already being treated for cancer and a new tumor arises, it is more likely to be metastatic cancer than a new primary tumor.

They discovered that breast, melanoma and colon cancers all had a gene that was more highly expressed than in cells that did not spread.  The gene code for the protein PITPNC1 means they can predict which of the cancer cells are getting aggressive and ready to spread, at a much earlier stage.

They hope the finding will help to create new treatments that reduce the risk of cancer spread.  If they can get to the point where they can offer a custom-made therapy that will target the function of this protein, they might be able to stop it from spreading.  They have also earned of a study that suggests barring exit from blood vessels could be yet another way to stop cancer spread.

Dr Fredda Branyon