Scientists Find Way to Stop Cancer From Spreading


When people want to move, they use their feet, and when some cancers spread or metastasize, they do, too. Now scientists at Duke Cancer Institute have discovered how to stop cancer from spreading by stopping their “feet” from developing.

Cancer can spread using feet called invadopodia

While cancer is a diagnosis people dread, learning that one’s cancer has metastasized is often terrifying. Cancer cells spread when they break away from a primary tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system. When these traveling cells form a new tumor in a different part of the body, it is called a metastatic tumor. When breast cancer cells spread to the bone, the new tumor is metastatic breast cancer.

The National Cancer Institute notes that the most common sites of metastasis from solid tumors are the lungs, bones, liver, and brain. Lung cancer, for example, generally spreads to the bones or brain, while colon cancer frequently metastasizes to the liver.

Researchers know that some cancers metastasize using “feet” called invadopodia. Ann Marie Pendergast, PhD, senior author of the new study, and her colleagues have discovered a way to prevent development of these feet and, in the process, they can also stop the proteins responsible for allowing cancer cells to enter new cells.


According to Pendergast, these findings could result in a treatment to prevent the spread of cancer, which could be used along with a treatment that kills cancer cells. “A combination like this would be more effective than either treatment given alone,” she said in a Duke news release.

More specifically, this is the first time researchers have discovered that two proteins, Abl and Arg, are essential in regulating invadopodia structures. Abl and Arg kinases are not only necessary for the formation and function of invadopodia, but they are also present within them.

In addition, the researchers identified a new connection between Abl and Arg kinases and the Matrix Metalloproteinase (MMP), which is a key factor in cancer metastasis. “If we can find a way to block the kinases, we’ll find a way to keep the feet from forming correctly and will keep the cells from moving,” said Pendergast.

In their research, Pendergast and her team used pharmacologic agents already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to block Abl kinases in leukemia. Since these agents have FDA approval, it may not be difficult to gain approval for this new application—to stop cancer from spreading.

Duke University Health System news release, Dec. 16, 2010
National Cancer Institute