Wound-healing genes influence cancer progression, say Stanford researchers

January 13, 2004

STANFORD, Calif. - Genes that help wounds heal are most often the "good guys," but a new study paints them as the enemy in some types of cancer. Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found that some tumors activate these wound-healing genes and, when they do, the tumors are more likely to spread. This work could help highlight new ways to treat the disease along with helping doctors decide which cancers to approach more aggressively.

"This is a feature we can find early on in the disease and it could change the way cancer is treated," said Howard Chang, MD, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar and lead author of the paper. The work appears in the Jan. 19 edition of Public Library of Science Biology.

The research group, led by Patrick Brown, MD, PhD, professor of biochemistry, took an unusual approach in finding the telltale genes. In most studies, scientists analyze tumor samples and look for genes that are more active compared to normal tissue. Such studies have produced long lists of genes involved in cancer biology but don't provide clues about what role those genes may be playing.

Chang started from the opposite direction. He knew wound healing and cancer progression had some similarities, including the growth of new blood vessels, rearrangement of the molecular matrix around the cells and changes in how cells attach to each other. "Wound healing is a process that allows cells to break normal constraints on their growth and cross boundaries. If a cell can access that program, that's a good environment for cancer," Chang said.

The researchers started by finding which genes are active in cells exposed to clotted blood as a model of cells in the wound-healing process. Then Chang and his colleagues looked to see whether those same genes were active in tumor samples.

The researchers found that prostate and liver cancers always activated wound-healing genes, while tumors in the breast, colon and prostate were mixed. In these variable tissues, tumors with active wound-healing genes turned out to be highly aggressive and were more likely to spread to other tissues.

Chang said assessing wound-healing genes could help doctors choose the best treatment for a patient. "There are a lot of drugs that work only on certain type of cancers. If you realize that different drugs work on a specific abnormality, doctors can match the drug to the problem," he said.

The best-known example of such pharmaceutical matchmaking is the drug Herceptin, which specifically treats breast cancers with an active version of the gene Her2/Neu.

Most doctors don't have the ability to screen tumor samples for active genes, but they routinely test for the presence of proteins made by genes, as with Her2/Neu. Julie Sneddon, a biochemistry graduate student and second author on the paper, has been working on a similar test to identify tumors that churn out wound-healing proteins.

Chang said the next step is learning how best to treat tumors that produce these proteins. Because wound healing is a well-understood process, researchers may be able to disrupt the process and slow the cancer's spread. "There are drugs coming out that block blood vessel growth, so perhaps those drugs should be targeted to this population of patients," Chang said.

Additional Stanford researchers who contributed to this work include postdoctoral scholars Ruchira Sood, PhD, and Jen-Tsan Chi, MD, PhD; Ash Alizadeh, MD, PhD, a former graduate student; Rob West, MD, PhD, clinical instructor of pathology; Kelli Montgomery, research associate; and Matt van de Rijn, MD, PhD, associate professor of pathology.
-end-
Stanford University Medical Center integrates research, medical education and patient care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. For more information, please visit the Web site of the medical center's Office of Communication & Public Affairs at http://mednews.stanford.edu.

Broadcast media contact: M.A. Malone at 650-723-6912 (mamalone@stanford.edu)

Stanford University Medical Center

Related Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

New blood cancer treatment works by selectively interfering with cancer cell signalling
University of Alberta scientists have identified the mechanism of action behind a new type of precision cancer drug for blood cancers that is set for human trials, according to research published in Nature Communications.

UCI researchers uncover cancer cell vulnerabilities; may lead to better cancer therapies
A new University of California, Irvine-led study reveals a protein responsible for genetic changes resulting in a variety of cancers, may also be the key to more effective, targeted cancer therapy.

Breast cancer treatment costs highest among young women with metastic cancer
In a fight for their lives, young women, age 18-44, spend double the amount of older women to survive metastatic breast cancer, according to a large statewide study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

Stress in cervical cancer patients associated with higher risk of cancer-specific mortality
Psychological stress was associated with a higher risk of cancer-specific mortality in women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers identify one way T cell function may fail in cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have discovered a mechanism by which one type of immune cell, CD8+ T cells, can become dysfunctional, impeding its ability to seek and kill cancer cells.

More cancer survivors, fewer cancer specialists point to challenge in meeting care needs
An aging population, a growing number of cancer survivors, and a projected shortage of cancer care providers will result in a challenge in delivering the care for cancer survivors in the United States if systemic changes are not made.

New cancer vaccine platform a potential tool for efficacious targeted cancer therapy
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have discovered a solution in the form of a cancer vaccine platform for improving the efficacy of oncolytic viruses used in cancer treatment.

American Cancer Society outlines blueprint for cancer control in the 21st century
The American Cancer Society is outlining its vision for cancer control in the decades ahead in a series of articles that forms the basis of a national cancer control plan.

Read More: Cancer News and Cancer Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.