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ICR research shows how skin cancer cells invade new tissues

Targeting a specific gene could lead to treatments that prevent cancer from spreading


Melanoma skin cancer cells harness a gene – usually used to create connections between nerves – to escape from their immediate area and invade new tissues, according to research from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR).

The study, published in the journal iScience, found that the ARHGEF9 gene is used by melanoma cells to create ‘molecular drills’ – also called filopodia – enabling them to attach to, and punch holes though, surrounding cells and structures.

ARHGEF9 usually plays a role in creating connections between nerves during the development of the nervous system. When the gene is not functioning properly, it can lead to epilepsy and neurodevelopmental disorders such as hyperactivity, anxiety and traits associated with autism.

The scientists believe that, in the future, targeting the gene could lead to treatments that prevent cancer from spreading.

During the study, researchers grew cells in bioengineered 3D cell matrix and depleted hundreds of genes at one time, By using robotic microscopy and sophisticated image analysis, they identified which genes were important for cancer cell shape.

The researchers say the gene is likely to be involved in the growth and spread of other cancer types, particularly neuroblastoma, which is a type of cancer that stems from nerve tissue and mostly affects children.

There are over 16,000 new cases of melanoma in the UK each year and cases continue to rise, the ICR reported. If diagnosed in its earliest stage, melanoma cancer can usually be effectively treated with surgery, but it becomes significantly more difficult to treat when it becomes more aggressive and spreads to other parts of the body.

Commenting on the research, Chris Bakal, professor of Cancer Morphodynamics at ICR, said: “Our work shows that melanoma cells borrow use of ARHGEF9 from nerve cells to change shape, branch out and invade new tissues. It’s incredibly important that we understand how cancer cells change their shape to become more aggressive and invasive. When cancers metastasise, they become much harder to treat.

“We’re working to better understand how cancer cells change shape and invade new tissues, so that one day we can find treatments that stop it. Our next step will be to look at the broader impacts of blocking ARHGEF9 to explore whether it could be suitable to target it with a drug to stop the gene from helping the cancer to spread.”

Article by
Emily Kimber

8th August 2022

From: Research, Healthcare



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