Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Marks of Metastasis – I Stick or Twist?

Cancer cell spread aided by proteins that stop the immune system from noticing the threat

10 March 2020

Stick or Twist?

Cancers begin when cells start growing and replicating at an extreme and uncontrolled rate. But often they pose the greatest danger only when they start to move around the body. This spread, called metastasis, causes most cancer-related deaths, but is hard to prevent. A new study trying to pin down the causes of this deadly migration has investigated MYC (red in the cancerous mouse liver pictured) and TWIST1, two proteins found at extraordinarily high concentrations around cancers. The study found that in patients they prompt cancer cells to produce signals called cytokines. These cytokines effectively bribe the body’s bouncers, immune cells called macrophages (green), to allow tumour cells free passage, allowing the process to begin. Blocking the action of these cytokines in mice stopped the cancer from spreading, showing that MYC, TWIST1 and cytokines are giving metastasis the green light, and could be the place to target new treatments.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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