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Investigating the role of podoplanin in allowing breast cancer to spread

  • Researcher: Professor Massimiliano Mazzone
  • Institution: VIB vzw
  • Award Amount: £158,409 for 3 years from June 2013
  • Cancer Type: Breast Cancer
Investigating the role of podoplanin in allowing breast cancer to spread
The cancer microenvironment consists of the space in between the cancer cells within the tumour mass. Among other components, it contains cells of the immune system including some cells called macrophages.  These immune system cells are produced in order to attack the tumour and try to destroy it. However, in some types of cancer, such as breast cancer, the cancer cells "convince" immune cells to work for their own benefit, favouring tumour growth and spread.  One of the things that makes cancer so dangerous is this ability to grow and spread away from the original tumour and into surrounding tissues and organs.  These secondary tumours can stop key organs from working which can make successful treatment much more difficult. In an initial study Professor Mazzone and his team have found that, when exposed to a tumour like environment, macrophages are able to regulate many things, including levels of a molecule called podoplanin.  Podoplanin is known to be found at high levels in cancer cells.  Professor Mazzone is now using his Worldwide Cancer Research grant to better understand the role of podoplanin in breast cancer, with a particular focus on the part played by macrophages in allowing the cancer cells to invade the lymphatic system and spread.  The team will start their work using cells grown in the laboratory but will then use mouse models, some with podoplanin and some without.  Using mouse models like these are essential to study how cells can move around the body.  Professor Mazzone hopes that his findings will shed new light on how breast cancer cells can spread which, in the future, could possibly help with the development of new treatments to stop this process.
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