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Huntsman Cancer Institute Research Finds New Breast Cancer Metastasis Mechanism

File: Sarah Vaughn

Researchers from the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah have discovered a cellular mechanism that drives the spread of breast cancer, known as metastasis, to other parts of the body. 

The study was published on line Thursday in the journal Cell Reports.  Associate Professor Alana Welm at HCI is the senior author.  She says investigators were surprised to find that genetic mutations are not the drivers of the mechanism that causes cancer to spread.

“It actually involves a chemical modification of the DNA that allows the gene to turn on without actually causing any mutations," says Welm, "and so what happens is when this pathway get activated we have hundreds of genes that sort of get turned on in concert and this allows the cancer cell to migrate and metastasize.”

Welm says their research of breast cancer in mice also found a therapy which blocks that mechanism. She says they already have a synthesized compound known as a RON inhibitor that works on the cell surface.

“And so the next step really is to try to test these RON inhibitors in clinical trials so that we can test whether or not we can reduce metastasis of breast and potentially other cancers using these RON inhibitors,” she says.

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Welm says there is still a lot of work to be done. She says future research will also focus on identifying patients who are more likely to have a cancer that spreads. She also says more research needs to be done to predict a patient’s response to RON inhibitors.

Bob Nelson is a graduate of the University of Utah with a BA in mass communications. He began his radio career at KUER in 1978 when it was still in Kingsbury Hall. That’s also where he met his wife, Maria Shilaos, in 1981. Bob left KUER for commercial radio where he worked for 25 years, and he is thrilled to be back at KUER. Bob and his family are part of an explorer group, fondly known as The Hordes and Masses, which has been seeking out ghost towns and little-known places in Utah for more than twenty years.
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