Taiwanese researchers have become the first in the world to pin down a gene key to triggering metastasis of cancer cells, scientists at Academia Sinica announced yesterday.
The gene, known as paraspeckle component 1 — or PSPC1 — causes the metastasis of cancer in 60 percent to 70 percent of human patients, Jou Yuh-shan (周玉山), a research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences, told a news conference in Taipei.
In early-stage cancer, the condition affects only a localized part of the body, but when cancer spreads, the diagnosis changes to stage three or stage four, signifying that cancer cells are growing and spreading through blood vessels, he said.
Photo: Wu Liang-yi, Taipei Times
Stage three and stage four cancer is marked by the progression of cancer into other parts of the body, resulting in a deterioration of health and eventual death, he said.
After a decade of research, his team has identified PSPC1 as the gene that plays a crucial role in metastasis and controls the functions of other genes in cancer cells, such as inhibiting apoptosis, or natural cell death, he said.
Large-scale expression of PSPC1 is present in 60 percent to 70 percent of late-stage cancers, including breast, liver, lung and prostate cancers, he said.
PSPC1 not only augments the generation of cancer cells, but it also enables metastasis by imparting mobility and stem-cell like characteristics to normal cells, resulting in a superior growth rate and the drug resistance of cancer cells, he said.
Furthermore, the gene alters the cell’s cytokines to produce growth factor beta 1, also known as TGF-beta 1, which regulates apoptosis, he said.
In its altered state, the factor instead prolongs the lifespan and reproduction of cancer cells, he said.
The rate of PSPC1 expression is exceedingly low in healthy human beings, while high rates of its expression correspond with cancer that is reproducing and metastasizing, he said.
“In elucidating PSCS1 functionality and TGF-beta 1 behavior in metastasizing cancer, this research represents a major breakthrough,” Jou said.
The team’s study was published in the journal Nature Cell Biology on March 28.
The research team has identified an inhibitor of PSPC1 that has potential medical value, but its development for actual application in cancer treatment could take between 10 and 20 years, he said.
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