In a new study published in the Journal of Cell Biology, scientists show how a protein common in human cells appears to switch on the spread of cancer cells. They suggest the discovery will help us better understand epithelial cancers like breast and lung cancer.
Cancer cells have much greater ability to migrate than normal cells in adulthood. This is how cancer establishes new, secondary tumors in other parts of the body - a process known as metastasis, which is responsible for 90 percent of cancer deaths.
For the new study, a team from McGill University in Montreal, Canada focused on a protein called Rab13, which is an enzyme that promotes normal cell migration. The team discovered that in many types of cancer - especially epithelial cancers that often metastasize to the brain - Rab13 is unusually highly expressed.
Epithelial cancers - known as carcinomas - arise in cells of epithelial tissue and account for the vast majority of cancers, including breast, prostate, lung, colon, ovarian and bladder cancer.
The team believes the study will generate great interest in using Rab13 as a target in cancer therapies, but cautions there is still a long way to go before we start seeing it in clinical trials.