Complications related to metastasis for individuals with breast cancer have caused over 90% of deaths. This type of cancer can begin in any part of the breast and spread to other parts of the body if cancer cells get into the blood or lymphatic system. When cancer cells spread throughout the body, the cancer is said to have metastasized. Currently, there is no treatment to prevent this process since doctors have to target the primary tumor and its potential metastatic cells.
In the past four years, doctors at Bar-Ilan University have been researching invadopodia, the feet-like projections cancer cells use to degrade underlying tissue and cause metastasis in organs. Researchers discovered that invadopodia formation occurs when the cellular level of proteins Pyk2 and cortactin increase. Thus, when cells cannot produce Pyk2, metastasis does not occur. This observation gave scientists a new method to prevent breast cancer from spreading to other organs and develop a drug that inhibits metastasis from occurring altogether.
In order to test the theory, researchers synthesized a peptide and administered it to mice with breast cancer. The peptide competed with the natural Pyk2 protein for cortactin and blocked its access. This interaction of the Pyk2-binding to cortactin inhibited the formation of invadopodia. Thus, the mice did not form as many metastases. In the future, the researchers hope to discover different sequences of amino acids to produce a product that binds explicitly at cortactin’s target site.
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