University of York: Step forward in fight against breast cancer spread

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Researchers have made a significant step forward in the understanding of how breast cancer cells spread through the body.

Scientists at the University of York and Chalmers University in Sweden studied a protein called Memo1, which is known to be important in the progression of breast cancer.

The research revealed how the protein interacts with copper ions, an element which occurs naturally in the body. Although the interaction between Memo1 and copper was already known to be essential for the movement and spread of cancer cells, the molecular details of how this occurred was, until now, unknown.

Now that these molecular details have been revealed, scientists can increase understanding of how breast cancer cells spread in the body, and also potentially the means by which the spread could be reduced.

Aggressive cancers

Professor Paul Walton from the University of York’s Department of Chemistry, said: “Aggressive forms of cancer can quickly spread to other parts of the body in a process called metastasis, and it is these cancers that are often associated with poor patient outcomes.

“Understanding the molecular basis of how cells spread is a key approach in defeating these aggressive cancers.”

There are more than 55,000 new breast cancer cases in the UK every year and it is the most common cancer in the UK. Around 11,500 people die of breast cancer each year, but the survival rate is significantly improved the earlier the cancer is detected.

Step closer

Current primary treatments for breast cancer include surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy to remove the cancer and prevent further spread.

Professor Walton said: “The risk of recurrence of breast cancer following treatment can be significant and therefore we need to understand the molecular basis of how it spreads, giving us a much better chance of slowing the spread or stopping it completely. Our latest research puts us a step closer to achieving this goal.”

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