Researchers developing a new study on preventing tumor metastasis; study taking an important step toward the development of an agent against the metastasis of certain cancers. Using the Swiss Light Source, they deciphering the structure of a receptor that plays a crucial role in the migration of cancer cells. This making it possible to identifying the agents; that could prevent the spread of certain cancer cells via the body’s lymphatic system.
When cancer cells spread in the body, secondary tumors, called metastases, can develop. These are responsible for around 90% of deaths in cancer patients. An important pathway for spreading the cancer cells is through the lymphatic system; which, like the system of blood vessels, runs through the entire body and connects lymph nodes to each other.
Preventing tumor metastasis
In the migration of white blood cells through this system, for example to coordinate the defense against pathogens, one special membrane protein, the chemokine receptor 7 playing an important role. It sits in the shell of the cells, the cell membrane, in such a way that it can receive external signals and relay them to the interior. In the cells of all vertebrates, there are 20 different chemokine receptors that can interact with more than 40 signaling proteins called chemokines.
But the cell follows the track of the chemokine like a hound following a scent. For example, a constant flow of white blood cells; important cells of the body’s immune system, is directed to the lymph nodes. Cancer cells too can take advantage of CCR7 and misuse the cell receptor for their own purposes. The appropriate signaling protein guides them out of the tumor and into the lymphatic system.
Signaling proteins fits
Each of these signaling proteins fits only to very specific receptors. In turn, if one of the signaling proteins binds to a receptor, it triggers processes inside the cell that lead to a specific cellular response to the signal. CCR7 is one of the receptors that control the movement of cells within the body. As soon as the appropriate signaling protein outside the cell binds to it, a chain reaction in the cell causing the cell to move in the direction of the highest concentration of the signaling protein.
Also, one of the active agents the researchers discovering; in their study is already being testing by the pharmaceutical industry, in clinical trials, as a potential drug against metastasis. Previously it had been thought; that this agent binds to a different receptor and thus inhibits another function of the cancer cell. This highlights how insights from such studies can be extraordinarily valuable for pharmaceutical research and development.