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In vivo studies and screens for new factors that promote or suppress tumor metastasis

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Uncovering the switches that turn tumours on and off

Several genes, proteins and mechanisms have been implicated in activating or inactivating tumours. New treatments for cancer may be next.


Tumours are growths that form on or in the body, and can be benign or malignant in nature. Primary tumours are usually highly malignant and can spread to others locations in the body. A close understanding of how they become invasive and metastasise (spread) in the body can help develop treatment for serious cancers. Generally, metastatic tumours can be diagnosed when specific genes in the body become inactivated and others are activated. However, live testing in mice and humans has shown that manipulating these specific genes did not trigger malignant transformation. This indicated that additional unknown factors are required for this process to take place. The Findmetastasis project, funded wholly by the EU, recently explored animal models that traced the steps in malignant transformation of tumours. Its aim was to conduct in vivo (laboratory) studies to screen for new factors that promote or suppress tumour metastasis. A good place to start looking for these factors was in drosophila, the common fruit fly. Hallmarks of cancer such as over growth, evading programmed cell death, tissue invasion and metastasis have been found in tumorous eye tissues of drosophila. This provided a powerful experimental model for the genetic dissection of tissue homeostasis, growth and cancer in vivo. The project team managed to partly unravel the molecular steps involved in drosophila eye tumours and how they could be triggered. Several very specific mechanisms have been identified at a molecular level, including a gene in drosophila that can act as a tumour suppressor. Specific proteins were also implicated in tumour-related activity, in addition to other mechanisms related to gene formation. Together, these findings are considered very important in bringing the medical research community closer to understanding metastatic tumours and embarking on a quest for a cure. Positive results in this respect may be just a few years away.

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