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New research helps show how lung cancer spreads

Scientists have shown that the protein ties tethering cells together are severed in lung cancer cells – meaning they can break loose and spread, according to research recently published in Cell Reports.*

In work supported by Worldwide Cancer Research, Cancer Research UK, and the UK Medical Research Council, Dr Angeliki Malliri and her team at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute discovered that the ties which lash cells together – controlled by a protein called TIAM1 – are chopped up when cell maintenance work goes wrong.

Healthy cells routinely scrap old cell parts so they can be broken down and used again. But in lung cancer cells, this process spirals out of control and too many TIAM1 ties are scrapped. This happens because there is too much of another protein, called HUWE1.

Dr Angeliki Malliri said: “This important research shows for the first time how lung cancer cells sever ties with their neighbours and start to spread around the body, by hijacking the cells’ recycling process and sending it into overdrive. Targeting this flaw could help stop lung cancer from spreading.”

Lung cancer is the biggest cause of cancer deaths worldwide, with over 1.5 million deaths in 2012 alone. Early-stage research like this is essential for continuing to tackle lung cancer, and ensuring improved prevention, diagnosis and treatments.

* Vaughan et al. HUWE1 ubiquitylates and degrades the Rac activator TIAM1 promoting cell–cell adhesion disassembly, migration and invasion. Cell Reports. DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2014.12.012

Adapted from a Cancer Research UK press release.