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Going Rogue: Novel Approach Aims to Stop Cancer in its Tracks

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An exciting new discovery of a rogue gene could lead to a new generation of drugs to stop critical late-stage cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.

University of East Anglia (UEA) scientists discovered the culprit gene, known as WWP2, an enzymic bonding agent inside cancer cells. The rogue gene attacks and breaks down the body’s built-in cancer cell defense system that normally keeps malignant cells from spreading.

The discovery is a breakthrough in scientists’ understanding of how cancer spreads. The British team found by blocking WWP2, levels of the body's natural inhibitor are boosted and the cancer cells remain dormant.

Lead author Andrew Chantry, of UEA's School of Biological Sciences, said in a statement that the discovery could lead to the development of a new generation of drugs within the next decade that could be used to stop the aggressive, late-stage spread of most forms of the disease in its tracks, including breast cancer, brain cancer, colon cancer and skin cancer.

"The late-stages of cancer involve a process known as metastasis - a critical phase in the progression of the disease that cannot currently be treated or prevented," Chantry said. “If a drug was developed that deactivated WWP2, conventional therapies and surgery could be used on primary tumors, with no risk of the disease taking hold elsewhere.”

The challenge is to now identify a potent drug that will get inside cancer cells and destroy the rogue gene’s activity. While it’s a difficult task, Chantry said it's not an impossible one thanks to a deeper understanding of the biological processes revealed in this study.

The initial discovery was made while researchers were studying a group of natural cancer cell inhibitors called "Smads," proteins that help regulate the expression of certain genes.

Dr. Mark Matfield, scientific coordinator of Association of International Cancer Research (AICR) said the new discovery is a very exciting approach which holds great potential, and perfectly illustrates the way basic research into cancer can open up new ways to treat cancer.

The research was funded by AICR, a UK-based charity, with additional support from the Big C Charity and the British Skin Foundation, and published in the January 24, 2011 issue of the journal Oncogene.

Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, she pens Nonsmoking Nation, a blog following global tobacco news and events.

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