… the JAK Protein, Metastases and Aggressive Cancer
The sad fact is that 90% of deaths caused by cancer occur following metastasis. Identifying the process that enables tumours to spread is therefore central to much current research.
A protein called JAK has been identified which is involved in the process that allows cancer cells to generate the forces needed to invade surrounding areas. The most difficult cancers to treat are those that spread or migrate to others parts of the body to form metastases. Not only does this spread cause increased complexity for surgeons and oncologists, but these secondary cancers are also known to be more aggressive. 90% of deaths caused by cancer occur following metastasis. The article that appeared in the journal Cancer Cell stresses that the identification of the JAK protein is significant as cell biologists are always seeking new markers that help to distinguish enemy from friendly cells without too much collateral damage. A good marker creates a target for treatment, because cancer treatments attempt with variable success to specifically kill only the cancer cells. Further, a marker that is specifically related to aggression would theoretically lend itself more to effective treatments.
The authors studied a highly aggressive form of skin cancer called melanoma, and described how aggressive cancer cells move in two ways, as follows:
The cells form protrusions that "elbow" their way out of a tumour
The tumour itself can force gaps or grooves through healthy tissue.
In both instances the force processes involved are controlled by JAK.
JAK has previously been linked to leukaemia, so some drugs are already being developed, but the new study highlights the additional benefit that these drugs may also dampen the aggression and hence help to prevent spread. However, as ever, more research is needed.