Claire Wells End of Year Update 2018
For breast cancer cells to spread around the body, they first need to invade tissues which surround the tumour. It is thought that breast cancer cells do this by reducing proteins which cause breast cancer cells to stick together and increasing proteins which help breast cancer cells to move around the body. Dr Wells and her team previously identified two proteins that they think are key in this process called PAK4 and RhoU. They have continued studying these two molecules, trying to identify exactly how they work together and how they work with other molecules to help breast cancer to spread around the body.
2018 End of Year Report
Dr Claire Wells – Investigating how breast cancer begins to invade and migrate
Progress made to date
Dr Wells has shown that removing PAK4 from breast cancer cells grown in the lab makes them less invasive and, through experiments the team have been carrying out, they have demonstrated that PAK4 has genuine potential as a drug target to prevent the spread of breast cancer.
The team have shown that RhoU, a protein which works together with PAK4, is also essential in helping breast cancer cells to spread. They have developed techniques in the lab to allow them to understand how these two proteins work together. Work continues to get to the bottom of exactly how these two proteins interact, but this could lead to an increased understanding of how cancer cells invade other tissues.
This year, the team have identified another protein which interacts with RhoU called PIX and have discovered how these two proteins attach to one another. However, they have found that the relationship between PAK4, RhoU and PIX is highly complicated. In animal models, the team have begun to test how disrupting levels of these proteins affects the spread of breast cancer cells. Using zebrafish, Dr Wells and her team have observed that various levels of these proteins have different effects on the spread of cancer cells. They have also observed the same results in mice.
The team now think that in some cases these proteins might work to suppress the invasion of breast cancer cells, but in others the same proteins might promote it. The researchers believe that any potential treatments targeting any one of these proteins would have to be thought out very carefully to ensure they don’t encourage cancer cells to spread. Importantly, in the future, we might be able to use the relationship between these proteins to predict whether breast cancer will spread.
Impact for breast cancer patients
Excitingly, this research has identified several potential protein targets that could help to develop new therapies to prevent the spread of breast cancer. Additionally, the team think they have discovered a way to help us predict which patients have a disease which is likely to spread.
This work could help to ensure everyone gets the right treatment to stop the spread of cancer, and ultimately save lives.
Dr Wells and her team are currently in the process of putting together a scientific paper describing their findings. They are hoping this will be published in 2019.