Low oxygen levels in tumors 'trigger spread of breast cancer'
Biologists from Johns Hopkins University found that low oxygen conditions prompted increased production of proteins called RhoA and ROCK1.
High levels of these proteins are known to give cancer cells the ability to move and spread, leading to worse outcomes forbreast cancer patients.
Dr. Gregg Semenza, the C. Michael Armstrong professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and senior author of the study, explains that in order to move, cancer cells need to initiate a number of changes to their internal structures.
RhoA and ROCK1 are known to play an important part in the formation of these structures, allowing the creation of "parallel filaments" in cancer cells that enable them to "grab" external surfaces to haul themselves along.
Dr. Semenza says that in many metastatic breast cancers, the genes that code for RhoA and ROCK1 are known to be activated at high levels, but it was unknown as to exactly what causes these levels to become high.
To investigate this process further, Daniele Gilkes, lead study author from Johns Hopkins University, conducted a series of laboratory studies.
She found that when breast cancer cells were exposed to low oxygen levels, they had significantly more movement compared with breast cancer cells exposed to normal oxygen levels.
In detail, it was found that the breast cancer cells had significantly more "hands" per cell and three times as many "filaments," meaning they were able to move more.
However, when Gilkes reduced the hypoxia-inducible factors, the breast cancer cells saw reduced movement, as well as a reduced number of filaments and hands.
On measuring RhoA and ROCK1 protein levels in the breast cancer cells, the researchers found that the levels of these proteins increased when the cells were exposed to low oxygen conditions. But RhoA and ROCK1 levels reduced when the hypoxia-inducible factors were reduced.
The researchers say further studies confirmed that hypoxia-inducible factors bind to RhoA and ROCK1 genes and activate them.
Additional research found that breast cancer patients who had high levels of RhoA or ROCK1 proteins were significantly more likely to die from the disease, compared with patients with low levels of the proteins. This finding was more apparent for patients who had high levels of both proteins.
Before we know it, they will "discover" that baking soda can kill tumors!