There are 1.5 million women newly diagnosed with breast cancer yearly. However, myoferlin, a protein that has been newly linked to breast cancer, may help reduce the spread of the disease. Researchers have concluded in a recent study that the spread of breast cancer may be reduced by low myoferlin levels.
The results of the study, published in the journal PLOS One, says that myoferlin levels may have an influence on whether or not breast cancer cells are able to break away and spread to other areas of the body. Myoferlin may actually change the shape of cancer cells, depending on the level of the protein in the body. When this theory was tested in mice, those mice that did not have the ability to produce myoferlin saw their cancer cells remain as small tumors that contained cells that would not migrate. The mice with higher myoferlin levels saw their tumor cells become large and irregularly shaped, which allowed the cancer cells to move elsewhere in the body more effectively.
According to the study, when myoferlin was present, breast cancer cells were more likely than not going to travel throughout the body. However, when myoferlin was in low levels or not present at all, breast cancer cells would likely behave as regular cells and stay where they were supposed to. Researchers conducted their tests on the most deadly type of cancer, which is triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), so they admit while their findings are promising, there is more work that needs to be done before they can bring targeted breast cancer therapies to patients.
In addition, there are questions about exactly how the myoferlin levels may help reduce the spread of cancer. If the mechanical nature of cancer cells can be impacted by myoferlin levels, researchers are wondering whether the nature of those cells can be used as a diagnostic marker or tool. Researchers say that they only targeted myoferlin in the study simply because they believed that myoferlin might play a role in the spread of cancer as a result of a gut instinct.
Only a small number of reports had previously linked myoferlin to the spread of cancer, so the researchers decided to start with manipulating myoferlin levels to see if that would help reduce the spread of cancer. Dr. Douglas Kniss of Ohio State University says when they decided to remove myoferlin from the cells, the cells did “weird things” and simply decided not to migrate as regular cancer cells might.
In fact, they also discovered that the presence of myoferlin might inspire the cancer cells to stiffen up and detach from the other cells that they have become “stuck” to, as normal cells appear to do. It was previously believed that cancer cells actually became softer in order to ease their travels through the body, but now, the evidence from this current study has indicated that myoferlin may cause cancer cells to stiffen to allow for detachment from the rest of the cells, and then may cause the cell to soften in order to spread easily throughout the body.
Now, Kniss and his team of researchers at Ohio State University are going to work on whether the influence of myoferlin only works on the most dangerous forms of cancer, such as triple negative breast cancer. While myoferlin may help reduce the spread of breast cancer, there continues to be further research required into how else myoferlin levels can help reduce the spread of cancer.
By Christina St-Jean