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Friday 28th October 2016

New discovery could lead to more effective cancer treatments

8th August 2012

Scientists have made a breakthrough which could lead to more effective treatments of throat and cervical cancers.

cervical cancer

In addition to treating the tumour, the team from Queen’s University in Belfast focussed their attention on the non-cancerous cells surrounding a tumour because it played a role in regulating the spread of the cancer.

By developing ways of “switching off” the two-way messages that encourage cancer cells to invade non-cancerous tissue, they believe it may be possible to restrict the spread of a tumour.

Lead researcher Professor Dennis McCance said it was already well-known that cancer cells are “intrinsically programmed” to invade neighbouring healthy tissue.

“But the cells in the non-cancerous tissue are also programmed to send messages to the cancer cells, actively encouraging them to invade,” he said. “If these messages - sent from the healthy tissue to the tumour - can be switched-off, then the spread of the cancer will be inhibited.”

A key discovery for the team was in finding a particular protein in non-cancerous tissue with the ability to either open or close the communication pathway.

When the Retinoblastoma protein (Rb) in non-cancerous tissue was activated it led to a decrease in factors that encouraged invasion by cancer cells.

The research, published in the European Molecular Biology Organization Journal, was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre and the National Institutes of Health (USA), and was supported by the Northern Ireland Biobank.

Professor McCance said the discovery paved the way for developing new treatments that would target the normal tissue surrounding a tumour.


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