Metastasis, or the spread of cancer around the body, is responsible for up to 90 per cent of all cancer deaths. In a new study on mice it has been demonstrated that altering a gene can reduce the chance of metastasis in the lungs by 75 per cent.
During the study, published in Nature, researchers created 810 pairs of genetically modified mice. The animals were given skin cancer, and the researchers counted the number of tumours that formed in the lungs.
They then identified 23 sections of DNA that made the spread of cancer more likely. They found that most of them were involved in regulating the immune system.
The team at the Sanger Institute in Cambridge found that by targeting one gene — called Spns2 — there was a 75 per cent reduction in metastasis.
Dr David Adams, one of the study’s authors, told the BBC: ‘It regulated the balance of immune cells within the lung. It changes the balance of cells that play a role in killing tumour cells and those that switch off the immune system.
‘We’ve learnt some interesting new biology that we might be able to use — it’s told us this gene is involved in tumour growth.’
Studies about potential cancer treatments often strike an emotional chord with people, most likely because so many have been affected by cancer, either through personal experience or observation.
So much research is continually being done that it is common to see big headlines promising great things from new and revolutionary treatments which are rarely as groundbreaking as their soundbites promise. We always have to be very careful with interpreting animal-based studies. We must remember that in this study, mice have been injected with melanoma (skin cancer) and their response is being measured. Already this is a world away from the real-life experience that a human being would have with such a cancer and how it could be studied and/or treated.
While from a scientific point of view this discovery is very interesting and may well prove to be relevant to how we treat certain cancers, from a clinical point of view it is clear that a huge amount of research still needs to be done before this can be established.
Research score: 3/5