A single gene that promotes initial development of the most common form of lung cancer and its lethal metastases has been identified in a mouse model by researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Florida. Their study suggests other forms of cancer may also be driven by this gene, matrix metalloproteinase-10 (MMP-10). The study, published in PLoS ONE on April 24, 2012, shows that MMP-10 is a growth factor secreted and then used by cancer stem-like cells to keep themselves vital. These cells then drive lung cancer and its spread, and are notoriously immune to conventional treatment. The findings raise hope for a possible treatment for non-small cell lung cancer, the leading cause of U.S. cancer deaths. Researchers discovered that by shutting down MMP-10, lung cancer stem cells lose their ability to develop tumors. When the gene is given back to the cells, they can form tumors again. The power of this gene is extraordinary, says senior investigator Alan Fields, Ph.D., the Monica Flynn Jacoby Professor of Cancer Research within the Department of Cancer Biology at the Mayo Clinic in Florida. "Our data provides evidence that MMP-10 plays a dual role in cancer. It stimulates the growth of cancer stem cells and stimulates their metastatic potential," he says. "This helps explain an observation that has been seen in cancer stem cells from many tumor types, namely that cancer stem cells appear to be not only the cells that initiate tumors, but also the cells that give rise to metastases." Dr. Fields says the findings were unexpected, for several reasons. The first is that the cancer stem cells express MMP-10 themselves, and use it for their own growth. Most of the known members of the matrix metalloproteinase gene family are expressed in the tumor's microenvironment, the cells and tissue that surround a tumor, he says.
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