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Door-opening protein helps spread neuroblastoma

June 23, 2016

Researchers at Children’s Cancer Institute (CCI) have found that the protein stathmin helps the childhood cancer neuroblastoma to spread by disrupting cell signals, letting cancer cells gain entry into organs away from the original tumour.

Research leader, Professor Maria Kavallaris, said that stathmin was known to bind to cell skeletons. However, she and her team found it spreads cancer cells, not by hijacking the cytoskeleton, but by disrupting chemical signals in the cancer cell to create openings in blood vessels that allow tumour cells to spread and to invade new organs.

“Much like the remote control on a garage door, stathmin sends signals that open doors out of and into blood vessels to help neuroblastoma tumour cells spread through the body. This study has provided valuable information to help us find new treatments,” Professor Kavallaris said.

“Advancing our understanding of the metastatic process provides us with opportunities to identify treatment vulnerabilities in the cancer.”

To test how stathmin helps cells spread, the researchers suppressed its production in neuroblastoma cells by switching off the gene that codes for it, then looked to see which processes were affected.

“This research has advanced our understanding of how stathmin alters chemical signals to change neuroblastoma cells’ shape and move through blood vessels. Now we need to see if does the same thing in other cancers,” Professor Kavallaris said.

This finding was presented at the international neuroblastoma research conference ANR2016 in Cairns this week and published in the journal Oncogene.

The research was done in affiliation with UNSW and Sydney Children’s Hospital and was funded in part by Australian Centre for NanoMedicine, Kids Cancer Project, NHMRC and ARC.

The original news post was published on the Children’s Cancer Institute website. Image courtesy of CCI.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation has supported cancer research at CCI by providing three grants totalling AUD $5.1 million towards cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology.

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