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Dublin: 10 °C Sunday 20 October, 2019
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Breakthrough in understanding how cancer cells 'hijack' and spread

A new research study is investigating how cancer cells spread around the body.

A BREAKTHROUGH IN  investigating how cancer cells spread around the body has been reported at the annual Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland research day.

The research examines how cancer cells ‘hijack’ blood cells known as platelets, enabling cancer to spread around the body and promoting the growth of new tumours.

Professor Niamh Moran, Associate Professor in Molecular and Cellular therapeutics explained:

This is the first time that the exact molecular mechanisms at play between prostate cancer cells and platelets have been understood. It was already known that cancer patients with a higher platelet count had worse outcomes but we now know what causes this negative effect. Our study paves the way for the development of new anti-cancer treatments that may potentially prevent the spread of cancer.

The research shows that cancer cells cause clusters of platelets to establish new blood vessels, and also to clot around the cancer cell, protecting it from the body’s immune system. This enables the cancer to spread to other parts of the body.

The first author on the study was PhD student Annachiara Mitrugno who worked in collaboration with Professor Moran and Professor David Williams, Associate Professor in Geriatric and Stroke Medicine, RCSI and Beaumont Hospital.

Research day

RCSI’s annual Research Day provides scientists with the opportunity to showcase their most recent research findings.

It also heard new insights into bone disease caused by multi-resistant bacteria, MRSA, which is a growing problem. Bone disease affects one in 5,000 people around the world.

RCSI researchers have discovered that the ability of Staphylococcus aureus, which causes the disease, to latch onto bone cells depends on a specific protein on the bacterium’s surface called ‘Spa’.

Once attached to the bone cell via Spa, the bacteria transmit signals prompting the bone to stop growing. The protein is also responsible for causing destructive inflammation in the bone. The gradual loss of bone cells leads to bone destruction and weakening of the skeletal system.

Dr Steve Kerrigan, principal investigator on the research, explained that blocking bacterial attachment to cells via Spa could be a way of treating the disease, or even preventing it.

Read: ‘Cancer leaves you feeling harder on the outside and softer on the inside’ – Áine Lawlor>

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