Scientists at the University of East Anglia in England have reportedly discovered a “rogue gene” that can lead to the spread of cancer throughout the body. The gene, labeled WWP2, attacks proteins in healthy cells that typically prevent the spread of cancer from one area of the body to another. The researchers found that the WWP2 gene is often present in late-stage cancer patients as the disease moves to different organs, a process known as metastasis.
Metastasis often occurs in the late stages of the disease. Cancer cells often spread through either the bloodstream or the lymph system and attack other organs. In many cases, the metastasized tumors are the ones attributable for many fatalities, rather than the tumors at the original site. The ability to prevent or forestall the metastatic process has long been considered an important factor in treating many forms of cancer.
Many types of cancer, including breast and colon cancers, are often aggressive and spread quickly throughout the body. The research team also determined that the development of chemotherapy drugs that can target the WWP2 gene might interrupt the metastasis process. The healthy cells, protected from the effects of WWP2, could fight off the cancerous mutations and prevent the spread of most types of cancers to other organs.
Dr. Andrew Chantry, one of the researchers who conducted the study, said that the work involved in creating such a drug “is a difficult but not impossible task”. He also said that the biggest challenge would be to develop a drug that will attack the WWP2 gene within the cancer cells and stimulate the production of anti-cancer proteins.
Dr. Surinder Soond, another researcher on the study, said that the results showed “a novel and exciting approach” in the treatment of highly aggressive forms of cancer. He also told reporters that the process “holds great potential” for preventing the spread of the disease.
Dr. Kat Arney, an official with the British agency Cancer Research UK, said that the WWP2 discovery “adds one more to this ever-growing list” of genes understood in the spread of cancer. She said that the East Anglia study was helpful in learning more about the process behind how cancer spreads throughout the body, but that any potential applications of the discovery are ‘still at the laboratory stage”.
The discovery of the WWP2 gene has led to speculation that a new class of chemotherapy drugs could come about within the next ten years. The anti-WWP2 drugs could prevent the spread of cancer to more susceptible organs, such as the heart or brain, while traditional chemotherapy routines or surgical procedures would still be used to attack the primary cancer site.