University of York Makes Unique Lung Cancer Breakthrough

Spreading lung cancer cells are like tents which have collapsed and are adrift in the wind, scientists from the University of York have discovered following some unique experiments.

Communication between two proteins is what triggers the cell tent to lose its shape and become unanchored, according to the innovative and illuminating research.

This process allows the cells to travel to other areas of the body, which is central to the process of cancer spreading and ultimately taking over the human anatomy.

Researchers hope that the findings will help prevent the spread of lung cancer; still a massive killer all over the world.

In Europe, more than 410,000 new cases of lung cancer were estimated to have been diagnosed in 2012.

Around 23,000 men and 18,000 women are diagnosed with lung cancer each year in the UK.

Writing in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers from York and the University of Texas describe how the communications centre of a cell – known as the Golgi apparatus – receives a signal from proteins which prompts the movement of membrane sacks inside it.

This movement alters the shape and surface of the cancer cell, allowing it to break free from its moorings and move around freely.

Dr Daniel Ungar, from the University of York’s biology department, said it was apt to think of the cancer cell resembling a tent structure.

“It has fixed sides to hold its shape and is firmly anchored to the ground in order to secure its contents. In order to move the tent, we have to rearrange its contents and collapse its sides in order to lift it out of its anchored position and carry it away.”

Ungar added that a similar process happens with cancer when it spreads – its outer edges are altered leaving it unanchored.

The study found that a protein called Zeb1 was critical to this process and the research team now want to look at how to target the protein without damaging healthy cells, in which the protein also exists.

The researchers only looked at lung cancer cells and do not know if the same process occurs in other cancers.

Despite efforts to reduce the level of smoking in Britain, more than half of new cases of cancer in the UK are breast, prostate, lung or bowel cancer.

Almost half of all cancer deaths in males are from lung, prostate or bowel cancer.

Only 5% of sufferers survive lung cancer for 10 or more years, in England and Wales.

But some positive news is that lung cancer incidence rates are projected to fall by 7% in the UK between 2014 and 2035, to 88 cases per 100,000 people by 2035.

It is hoped that research of this nature will only aid this process.


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