New route to cancer development discovered

11 Nov 2008

Scientists have linked cancer clues in faulty cells to provide a new route to cancer development, reveals a study published in Developmental Cell

Cancer is a disease caused by uncontrolled cell growth and division and understanding the complex molecular networks inside cells which regulate these processes is fundamental to understanding what goes wrong in cancer.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool used flies to understand how cell growth and division is controlled. Many of the proteins found in fly cells are also present in human cells and since fly cells are less complicated and grow faster than human cells they are easier to study and enable scientists to see changes more quickly.

They linked together pieces of a complex puzzle inside fly cells to show that signals from outside the cell are fed through a protein called pico - which has an equivalent protein called Lamellipodin in humans. This process ultimately regulates cell growth and division and understanding it will help improve our knowledge of how cancer develops.

This research unravels for the first time an intricate new pathway which helps explain the biochemistry behind a broad range of cancers.

Lead author, Cancer Research UK scientist Dr Ekaterina Lyulcheva, who is based at the University of Liverpool, said: “Before now, scientists knew about the presence of these molecules and their possible link to cancer, but no one knew how they talked to each other, to ultimately control tissue growth”.

Laboratory head and corresponding author Dr Daimark Bennett, also based at the University of Liverpool said: “We are extremely excited to have unlocked the key to a completely new route to cancer development and hope it will kick start a whole new direction for powerful research projects to block points in this pathway through the development of new drugs.”

The scientists made the connection that a cell signalling molecule called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which has already been implicated in driving cancers, sends messages to the pico – or Lamellipodin proteins.

Cancers driven by EGFR include breast cancer, ovarian cancer and cancers of the head and neck.

Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “Finding out more about cell growth and division will ultimately help us understand how cancer develops and how we can more accurately target drugs to beat it.

“This important basic research shows we have succeeded in taking another critical step towards piecing together the jigsaw of how cancer develops.”