Unlocking and Blocking Cancer

Study could uncover ways to outsmart cancer

(RxWiki News) Scientists at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine have discovered the way cancer spreads from one part of the body to another. This discovery may uncover methods for blocking the spread of cancer and improve the effectiveness of vaccines.

The lymphatic system is like the body's super transportation highway. Lymphatic vessels move fluids and cells around the body. Cancer cells use the lymphatic system to move to other organs.

Many types of cancer cells get into the lymph system by releasing certain molecules. These molecules bind with and unlock cells in the lymphatic vessels to gain access to and travel along the highway. The researchers say these molecules are like a token needed to open the gate to get on a toll road.

"Understanding how cancer moves around will help find ways of blocking the disease from spreading."

“When the token binds to [the molecule] CRSBP-1, it opens the gate,” said Wei-Hsien Hou, Ph.D., lead author of the paper and an M.D./Ph.D. student at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

“Our study is the first to identify a function for this protein. It’s important because it gives us a new target to block metastasis, treat edema (swelling of the body from fluid build-up) and enhance the effectiveness of vaccines by strengthening the body's immune responses.”

Understanding how to gain access into the lymphatic network is significant and will have a strong impact in the fields of cancer and immune research, according to Jung S. Huang, Ph.D., a study co-author, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Saint Louis University (SLU).

“Once you figure out how breast and other cancers spread, you can begin to work on blocking the process. This is very exciting,” Dr. Huang said.

In Depth

  • SLU scientists have found that molecules known as CRSBP-1 (also termed LYVE-1) ligands, which are a group of growth factors and cytokines, bind to CRSBP-1 receptors, which are located on the surface of lymphatic vessels. This stimulates a response, and acts like a token to gain entry to the lymphatic vessel network. This mechanism for getting into the lymphatic system is used by many cancer cells.
  • The study found that the molecule involved also decreases edema in a mouse model by opening lymphatic intercellular junctions, allowing fluid to drain through the lymphatic network and causing swelling to go down.
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Review Date: 
April 12, 2011