Scientists have discovered how cancer cells are able to squeeze between small spaces to spread throughout the body, according to new research in the journal Cancer Cell.
When switched on, JAK, a protein, gives cancer cells the ability to contract like a muscle and squeeze out of the tumor, Medical News Today reported. The finding adds to scientists' understanding of how JAK can help cancer to spread.
JAK is not a totally newly discovered protein – researchers have known before that it plays a role in the development of leukemia, and there are already some drugs that target JAK. But with this finding, scientists could now see if those drugs could help stop cancer from spreading, BBC News reported.
Tumors are made up of healthy cells, cancer cells and the cell matrix, which is a type of scaffolding that holds all the cells together, according to Medical News Today.
With some types of cancers, like skin cancers, cancer cells can spread in two ways: by "elbowing" their way through the matrix, or by going through tunnels in the tumor formed by healthy cells, BBC News reported. But either way, JAK is at play.
"There is a common theme of using force, force generated by the same mechanism - the same molecule, called JAK," study researcher Chris Marshall, of the Institute of Cancer Research, told BBC News.
Earlier this year, scientists from the University of East Anglia found a "rogue gene" that promotes the spread of cancer throughout the body. The gene, called WWP2, stops a protein that exists in the body that is in charge of halting cancer cells from spreading. But by turning off this WWP2 gene, scientists were able to keep cancer cells dormant.
And in other research, scientists from the National Institutes of Health and the University of Hong Kong found a compound that cancer cells emit when they are about to spread, meaning they may be able to better predict when a person's cancer is about to metastasize.