Scientists involved with a major new study have been able to reduce the spread of cancer around the body of mice by 75%.
The results of the animal experiments have been published in the journal Nature, and indicate that altering the immune system of the animals slows the spread of skin cancers to the lungs.
Tumours can “seed” themselves elsewhere in the body, and this process is behind 90% of cancer deaths.
But researchers are now fascinated to see whether this reduction in metastasis can be replicated in human beings.
Scientists at the Sanger Institute in Cambridge were initially engaged with the understanding what affected tumour spread in the body.
810 sets of genetically modified lab mice were created in order to discover which sections of the DNA code are involved in the resistance of the spread of cancer.
In order to achieve this, mice were injected with melanomas (skin cancer) and the team counted the number of tumours that formed in the lungs of the animals.
Scientists discovered that 23 sections of DNA have an influence over the spread of cancer in mice, while many are also related to control of the immune system.
Targeting one gene – called Spns2 – led to a 75% reduction in tumours spreading to the lungs.
Dr David Adams, one of the team involved in the experiments, explained the effects observed by scientists.
“It regulated the balance of immune cells within the lung. It changes the balance of cells that play a role in killing tumour cells and those that switch off the immune system.”
Immunotherapy has already achieved many dramatic results for patients suffering with cancer, and it is hoped that this the latest breakthrough can eventually be exploited to improve more people’s lives.
“We’ve learnt some interesting new biology that we might be able to use – it’s told us this gene is involved in tumour growth,” Dr. Adams noted.
It is hoped that it will eventually be possible to produce drugs that target Spns2, and this could have a slowing effect on cancers.
This remains an extremely distant prospect at present.
Dr Justine Alford, from Cancer Research UK, was nonetheless positive about this latest research and its potential benefits.
“This study in mice gives a new insight into the genes that play a role in cancer spreading and may highlight a potential way to treat cancer in the future. Cancer that has spread is tough to treat, so research such as this is vital in the search for ways to tackle this process.”