Targeting Enzyme Could Reduce Breast Cancer Spread

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Blocking key chemical stops disease from attacking other organs

UK scientists have discovered that blocking the actions of a key chemical can stop the spread of breast cancer to other organs.

The chemical, an enzyme called lysyl oxidase-like 2 (LOXL2), is needed for tumor cells to escape from the breast and invade surrounding tissues, allowing cancer cells to spread to other organs.

The spread of cancer is known as metastasis. Once breast cancer metastases are detected in a patient with breast cancer, the average survival is less than two years.

However, in laboratory models, scientists found that blocking the function of this enzyme decreased the spread of the cancer from the breast to the lungs, liver and bone.

The enzyme is thought to play a role in controlling the amounts of other molecules called TIMP1 and MMP9, which have previously been linked to the spread of cancer.

The findings pave the way for the development of drug designed to block the actions of the LOXL2 enzyme, which could be used to treat women with advanced breast cancer.

When the team from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) looked at levels of the enzyme in tissue samples from breast cancer patients, they found that high levels were associated with cancer spread and poor survival rates. This means that LOLX2 levels could also be used to predict whether a woman’s breast cancer is likely to be of an aggressive type.

As LOXL2 has also been linked to the spread of other cancers including cancer of the colon and oesophagus and squamous cell cancers, the study has important implications for treating many cancer types, the scientists said.

Dr Janine Erler from the ICR, who led the study, said: “Around 12,000 women die from breast cancer in the UK each year, most because their cancer has spread to other parts of their body.

“Our study shows that inhibiting the action of LOXL2 can significantly reduce the spread of breast cancer, suggesting that drugs which block this enzyme may be effective in preventing patients’ cancer from spreading.”

Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Cancer spread is an important problem in breast and other cancers, and scientists are searching to find new ways to stop cancer spread and save many more lives.

“The team has shown that targeting the molecule LOXL2, which plays a key role in spread, could offer new approaches to tackle this problem.”

The findings are published in the journal Cancer Research.