New genes identified that regulate the spread of cancers

January 11, 2017, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Research led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has discovered a new biological target for drugs to reduce the spread of tumours in cancer patients. Published in Nature today, the study with genetically modified mice found 23 genes that are involved in regulating the spread of cancers. The researchers showed that targeting one of these genes—Spns2—led to a three-quarters reduction in tumour spread.

The spread of tumours—metastasis—to other sites in the body is the leading cause of death for . Up to 90 per cent of cancer deaths are due to this, however the process that regulates the spread of tumours is very poorly understood.

To find out what genes in the body could influence metastasis, the researchers looked at how tumours spread in genetically engineered mice that were missing specific single genes. They screened 810 unique genes and identified 23 genes that either increased or decreased the spread of skin tumour cells to the lungs. Many of these genes also caused an alteration in the immune system, such as changing the bodies' ability to fight infection.

Removal of the Spns2 gene caused the largest change, reducing spread of tumours to the lungs by approximately four times. The researchers then looked at the effect of this gene on the spread of other cancers, from colon, lung and breast, and showed that taking out Spns2 also reduced the metastasis of these cancers.

Dr David Adams from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: "Loss of the Spns2 gene causes the greatest reduction in the formation of tumour colonies and represents a novel therapeutic target. We found that mice lacking Spns2 have a different ratio of immune system cells than normal, which seems to prime the immune system to remove cancer. Drugs that target this could help reduce or prevent the spread of tumours through the body."

Before this study, the Spns2 gene was known to affect the immune system, but was not implicated in tumour spread. It codes for a protein that transports a lipid, S1P, which signals to the immune system. Without this transporter protein, the signaling doesn't work properly and results in changes in the proportion of different immune cells in the body.

Dr Anneliese Speak from the Sanger Institute, said: "This work supports the emerging area of immunotherapy, where the bodies' own immune system is harnessed to fight cancer. Drugs could be designed to bind to the S1P transporter, preventing it from working and causing advantageous changes to the . Investigation of further targets in the Spns2 pathway, or other targets identified in this study could help develop potential therapies."

Dr Justine Alford, Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer, said: "This study in mice gives a new insight into the that play a role in cancer spreading and may highlight a potential way to treat 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."

Explore further: Researchers discover how cancer's 'invisibility cloak' works

More information: Louise van der Weyden et al, Genome-wide in vivo screen identifies novel host regulators of metastatic colonization, Nature (2017). DOI: 10.1038/nature20792

Related Stories

Researchers discover how cancer's 'invisibility cloak' works

September 26, 2016
UBC researchers have discovered how cancer cells become invisible to the body's immune system, a crucial step that allows tumours to metastasize and spread throughout the body.

Protein that promotes 'cell-suicide' could revolutionise eye cancer treatment

December 6, 2016
New research from the University of Liverpool has identified the role of a specific protein in the human body that can help prevent the survival and spread of eye cancer, by initiating cancer 'cell-suicide'.

Epigenetic changes promoting cancer metastasis identified

December 21, 2016
Latest University of Otago research is shedding new light on why and how cancer cells spread from primary tumours to other parts of the body. This phenomenon – known as metastasis – causes about 90 per cent of all cancer ...

Genetic mutations found linked to rare cases of multiple bowel tumors

July 5, 2016
Researchers have identified genetic mutations affecting the immune system which may lead to the development of more than one bowel tumour at the same time. Understanding how these cancers develop could improve targeting of ...

Cancer can be combated with reprogrammed macrophage cells

May 20, 2016
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have generated antibodies that reprogramme a type of macrophage cell in the tumour, making the immune system better able to recognise and kill tumour cells. The study, which is published ...

Recommended for you

How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism

January 18, 2018
Cancer metastasis, the migration of cells from a primary tumor to form distant tumors in the body, can be triggered by a chronic leakage of DNA within tumor cells, according to a team led by Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial ...

Modular gene enhancer promotes leukemia and regulates effectiveness of chemotherapy

January 18, 2018
Every day, billions of new blood cells are generated in the bone marrow. The gene Myc is known to play an important role in this process, and is also known to play a role in cancer. Scientists from the German Cancer Research ...

These foods may up your odds for colon cancer

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—Chowing down on red meat, white bread and sugar-laden drinks might increase your long-term risk of colon cancer, a new study suggests.

The pill lowers ovarian cancer risk, even for smokers

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—It's known that use of the birth control pill is tied to lower odds for ovarian cancer, but new research shows the benefit extends to smokers or women who are obese.

Researchers develop swallowable test to detect pre-cancerous Barrett's esophagus

January 17, 2018
Investigators at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center have developed a simple, swallowable test for early detection of Barrett's esophagus that offers promise ...

Scientists zoom in to watch DNA code being read

January 17, 2018
Scientists have unveiled incredible images of how the DNA code is read and interpreted—revealing new detail about one of the fundamental processes of life.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.