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UK scientists have announced discovery of a "rogue gene" that is responsible for the metastasis of cancerous tumors from one part of the body to another. The right drug, could stop the action of the gene and the spread of cancer.

Scientists Hope that the Right Drug Could Stop Cancer in Its Tracks

The cancer-spreading gene, called WWP2, deactivates an enzyme that makes a protein that locks tissues in place. When masses of cancerous cells are no longer anchored in the tissues where they started, they are free to enter the bloodstream to colonize the rest of the body. If they stay locked into their native tissues, however, eventually they will be attacked by the immune system or simply die, without ever causing cancer to spread.

Like so many other genes that have detrimental effects on health, WWP2 also has vital effects for health. This is the gene that helps your face grow into a normal shape over your facial bones, by selectively "snipping" the connections of cartilage between bone and soft tissues under the skin. The WWP2 gene is found in humans, mice, and zebrafish, all of which have "faces," but not in animals that do not have a face, such as earthworms.

That is why you wouldn't want to "kill" the WWP2 gene the same way you want to kill cancer cells. Effective cancer treatment will require a more subtle approach. And even with this new kind of cancer treatment, radiation and chemotherapy will not necessarily become a thing of the past.

How Cancer Treatment May Be Affected by the WWP2 Gene Discovery
Researcher Dr. Andrew Chantry has told interviewers that the challenge ahead is to find a medication that will go inside cancer cells and turn off the gene that gives them the freedom to leave the tissues that confine them. The way Dr. Chantry and his colleague Dr. S. M. Soond believe this will be done is by manipulating the ubiquitins, compounds in every cell that bind to and dissolve unneeded proteins. The challenge will be to find the exact ubiquitin that destroys the needed proteins in cancer cells without affecting healthy cells.

Even when the researchers are able to make a medication that gets rid of the cancer-spreading compounds, that doesn't mean there will be no other treatment at all. The scientists envision treatment programs that still use chemotherapy and radiation, but without having to treat the whole body. These toxic treatments can aimed just at the cancer tumors, because it will be reasonable to expect them to "stay put" long enough to be destroyed by the chemo or radiation.

Every kind of cancer won't respond to this kind of treatment. Cancers of the blood such as leukemia, for instance, will still circulate throughout the entire body. Tumors caused by bone, brain, breast, kidney, liver, lung, and prostate cancers, however, may be very susceptible to this new line of cancer treatment.

  • Soond SM, Chantry A. Selective targeting of activating and inhibitory Smads by distinct WWP2 ubiquitin ligase isoforms differentially modulates TGFβ signalling and EMT. Oncogene. 24 January 2011 [Epub ahead of print].
  • Photo courtesy of University of Michigan by Flickr :