Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have discovered a previously unknown mechanism whereby tumor cells invade normal tissues, spreading cancer through various organs. The ability of tumor cells to invade adjacent structures is a prerequisite for metastasis and distinguishes malignant tumors from benign ones. Thus, understanding the mechanisms that drive malignant cells to invade and a possible avenue for halting that mechanism could have tremendous potential for enhancing early detection of malignant cells and for therapeutic treatment.It has previously been assumed that tumor cells turn invasive upon accumulation of multiple mutations, each giving the cancer cell some invasive properties. Now, Professor Yinon Ben-Neriah and Dr. Eli Pikarsky of the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada at the Hebrew University Faculty of Medicine and their colleagues are reporting an alternative mechanism through which tumor cells become invasive. They found a program that is operated by a concerted group of genes that, when activated together, confer invasive properties upon epithelial cells. (Epithelial tissues line the cavities and surfaces of structures throughout the body, and also form many glands.) An article reporting their work appeared in the February 17, 2011 issue of the journal Nature. Interestingly, the expression of this entire gene group is normally suppressed by a single gene – p53 – that is considered as the most important tumor suppressor but unfortunately is inactivated in the majority of human cancers. Some key properties of the protein produced by the p53 gene -- arresting cell growth and induction of cell death – were previously discovered by Dr. Moshe Oren of the Weizmann Institute of Science, another member of the current research team.
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