Irish scientist behind cancer research breakthrough

special_reportAN IRISH scientist has published groundbreaking research that could offer new hope in the efforts to develop an effective treatment for cancer.

Dr Catherine Hogan, who is originally from Co Cork, has been working with a team of researchers at the Medical Research Council Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology at University College London for the past number of years to explore the interaction between normal cells and cancer cells to determine how this interplay can influence the progression of cancer during the early stages.

The study, which is being published in the April edition of Nature Cell Biology, found that cancer cells change their shape and can be removed when surrounded by healthy cells – a finding which may help in understanding how cancer starts and develops.

“The research is particularly significant as it is the first study to investigate the interaction between normal cells and transformed cancer cells in a mammalian cell system,” said Dr Hogan, who is one of the main authors of the study.

“Most research in the cancer field looks at tumour development in the later stages and focuses primarily on how genetic mutations or alterations in the transformed cells contribute to cancer development,” she said.

This latest study examines the boundary between normal cells and diseased or “transformed” cells in the epithelial tissue – an organised layer of cells that line the inside of many organs, such as the breast and gut, and which is where many human cancers occur. Epithelial cancer develops when a single cell becomes cancerous or transformed as a result of genetic mutations. Transformed cells are able to grow and divide at a faster rate than their normal neighbours, and this leads to the formation of a tumour.

What remains unclear is what happens during the early stages of cancer development when single cells become transformed and are no longer similar to their neighbours. To address this question, the researchers studied the interaction between the normal cells and transformed cancer cells. The results showed that the diseased cells and normal cells recognise that they are different from each other and, as a result, the transformed cells are excluded or are removed from the normal tissue.

“When these cells are excluded in the wrong way, the cancer spreads, but when they are excluded in the right way, the progression of cancer stops – which is the result we were seeking,” explained Dr Hogan.

The researchers also showed that “signalling pathways” are activated in the transformed cells only when they are surrounded by normal cells and not when they are surrounded by transformed cells. “The big question that remains is how transformed and normal cells recognise that they are different,” said Dr Hogan.

The lead author of the study, Dr Yasuyuki Fujita, said the findings represented an important breakthrough in cancer research and could help scientists to find new ways of treating cancer more effectively.

“By further studying the molecular mechanisms involved in this process, we may be able to invent a novel type of cancer treatment to exclude cancer cells from the body using the help of surrounding normal cells,” said Dr Fujita. “This is certainly an exciting breakthrough and, we hope, will prove to be a significant finding in the efforts to stop cancer progression and save lives.”

Source: Irish Times