The future of Cancer; can we catch it before it catches us? A research update

With one in three people now expected to contract a form of cancer within their lifetime, and the figures expected to rise to one in two people in the near future, cancer is the ever growing disease that appears to be evolving at such a rate we simply cannot keep up. With many bioinformatics laboratories within UK research hospitals forever persevering to find that one breakthrough that could change the world, all that appears to be being found is the forever progressing strengths of the cancer cells themselves and their dreaded malignant growths at a second site…but could their communications be their downfall?

Cancer; the disease that comes back with a vengeance. If you haven’t been immediately exposed to cancer within your lifetime, you are not only lucky but probably also unaware that recovery from preliminary cancer certainly does not give one the ‘all clear’. Migrations and developments of malignant tumours at a second site are the leading cause of death in cancer patients in remission, predominantly due to their aggressive nature, meaning they go unnoticed until it is too late. The largely unknown mechanisms for spread and survival of tumour cells appearing to be one of the ultimate barriers for breakthroughs. A recent medical research into metastasis (secondary site tumour development, from migration) from the Bart’s cancer institute, London, focuses in on the cell signalling pathways and how these are being exploited for expansion and persistence in collective cancer cells. Freshly published investigations from Dr Stephanie Kemorgant delve into how attachment of cells to each other and their environment are a necessity for proliferation. Could exploiting the communications and adherence lead to new treatments through blocking the spread?

In order for cells to be destroyed, detachment from the body and other cells must occur. In a process known as anoikis, cells are killed subsequent to detachment; unfortunately also this is a process that cancer cells have become very good at avoiding. But how?

Communication between cells allows response to both the immediate and the outside environment. With cellular communication going in both directions, chemical signals enter interact with the exterior environment of the cell as well as interacting within the cell itself. Proteins on the surface of the cell called integrins connect to a component outside the cell, namely the extracellular matrix. These integrins allow communication through attachment but also allow signals to be sent from the “inside to out” and the “outside to in”. However, Bart’s cancer institute’s recent research explains a discovery they’ve called “inside to in” communications – forming a ‘bubble’ in order to process and recycle materials within, making available new starting material for themselves in a process known as autophagy. It is this that is lethal to the body.

While development of drugs that inhibit integrins have been under examination and test for a while now, these recent discoveries may explain why little success has occurred so far. The next steps? Exploit, adapt, trial and ultimately… conquer.

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