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What is the role of microRNAs in Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition?

  • Researcher: Dr Cameron Bracken
  • Institution: Centre for Cancer Biology
  • Award Amount: £189,186 for 3 years from September 2012
  • Cancer Type: General Cancer Research
What is the role of microRNAs in Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition?

One of the main factors that makes tumours so dangerous is their ability to invade into surrounding tissues and organs and spread throughout the body, known as metastasis. Individual cancer cells squeeze between the normal cells nearby and push their way through the tissue. They are then carried in the blood stream and can form new tumours in other parts of the body, known as secondary tumours or metastases. Around 90% of deaths associated with solid tumours are caused by secondary tumours. It is therefore important to fully understand how metastasis occurs. One of the main ways cancer cells move involves a method called EMT (Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition). Epithelial cells are immobile cells that cover the surfaces within the body. EMT involves genes inside epithelial cells to "reprogramme" so that they turn into another type of cell, called mesenchymal cell, which is capable of pushing through tissues and moving to other places around the body, where new tumours can form. MicroRNAs are small molecules that help to control our genes by acting as off switches. Some of these microRNAs appear to play a role in cancer, and they are believed to play a big part in EMT. Dr Bracken will use his Worldwide Cancer Research grant to study how microRNAs are involved in EMT and how this applies to human tumours.

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