Scientists make breast cancer advance that turns previous thinking on its head

May 23, 2013

UEA scientists make breast cancer advance that turns previous thinking on its head Scientists at the University of East Anglia have made an advance in breast cancer research which shows how some enzymes released by cancerous cells could have a protective function.

New research published today in the Journal of Biological Chemistry reveals that an enzyme called MMP-8 (matrix metalloproteinase-8) could be acting as a locator to the immune system, which then becomes activated to attack tumours. It was originally thought that the production of MMPs by worked to promote .

Lead researcher Prof Dylan Edwards from UEA's School of Biological Sciences said: "MMPs are a family of enzymes that are released from cancer cells. They were once thought to act like '' to snip away at the scaffolding structures outside cells and clear a path for the cancer cells to invade and spread to other organs.

"Drugs that target this broad family of enzymes were trialled to treat cancer in the 1990s but largely failed. This led us to think that not all of these enzymes were bad guys that promoted tumour growth and spread."

Scientists from UEA worked with clinicians at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to look in detail at the patterns of MMPs in breast tumours from patients. Previous research published in 2008 revealed that one of these enzymes, known as MMP-8, has a protective role which holds tumours in check. And patients whose have more of this particular enzyme seemed to have better outcomes.

The latest research was funded by cancer charity the Big C and carried out by PhD student Sally Thirkettle. Prof Edwards said: "She has shown that if she makes cells produce MMP-8, it causes them to produce two other inflammatory factors (IL-6 and IL-8) that have previously been shown to promote cancer. However, breast tumour cells that over-produce MMP-8 don't survive long-term - the enzyme stops them growing."

"We now think that in tumours, MMP-8 acts as a sort of 'find me' signal to the immune system, which then becomes activated to attack the tumour, which may help to explain its protective function.

"The fact that a protective enzyme such as MMP-8 was also blocked by the first generation anti-MMP drugs used in the 1990s also partly explains why these drugs failed in the clinic," he added.

It is still unknown exactly how MMP-8 causes IL-6 and IL-8 to be activated - but the findings are an important step forward which will help direct further research.

Explore further: Protein secrets of Ebola virus

More information: 'Matrix metalloproteinase-8 (collagenase-2) induces the expression of interleukins-6 and -8 in breast cancer cells' by Sally Thirkettle, Julie Decock, Hugh Arnold, Caroline J Pennington and Dylan R Edwards (all UEA, UK) and Diane M Jaworski (University of Vermont College of Medicine, US) is published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry on May 24, 2013.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Tumor blood vessels prevent the spread of cancer cells

Feb 11, 2013

A lack of the protein endoglin in the blood vessels of tumour-bearing mice enables the spread of daughter tumours, according to researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Lund University in Sweden in a study published in the ...

Recommended for you

Chemical biologists find new halogenation enzyme

6 hours ago

Molecules containing carbon-halogen bonds are produced naturally across all kingdoms of life and constitute a large family of natural products with a broad range of biological activities. The presence of halogen substituents ...

Protein secrets of Ebola virus

12 hours ago

The current Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, which has claimed more than 2000 lives, has highlighted the need for a deeper understanding of the molecular biology of the virus that could be critical in ...

Protein courtship revealed through chemist's lens

12 hours ago

Staying clear of diseases requires that the proteins in our cells cooperate with one another. But, it has been a well-guarded secret how tens of thousands of different proteins find the correct dancing partners ...

Decoding 'sweet codes' that determine protein fates

14 hours ago

We often experience difficulties in identifying the accurate shape of dynamic and fluctuating objects. This is especially the case in the nanoscale world of biomolecules. The research group lead by Professor Koichi Kato of ...

Conjecture on the lateral growth of Type I collagen fibrils

Sep 12, 2014

Whatever the origin and condition of extraction of type I collagen fibrils, in vitro as well as in vivo, the radii of their circular circular cross sections stay distributed in a range going from 50 to 100 nm for the most ...

User comments : 0