Health researchers at Western University in London, ON.
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It's called Nodal and it's primarily found in embryonic or stem cells. Lynne-Marie Postovit of Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry discovered high levels of Nodal in breast cancer tumours.
It turns out the protein provides nutrients and oxygen to the tumour to help it grow and spread. So targeting Nodal could slow down the spread of breast cancer.
"We have determined that breast cancers, specifically those very aggressive, invasive breast cancers that spread, express an embryonic protein called Nodal and the expression of this protein is correlated with more blood vessels in the tumour. Blood vessels, many studies have shown, help to allow tumours to grow but also to spread throughout the body," Postovit said.
"In addition, we have shown that if we can target this embryonic protein, we can cause the blood vessels to collapse within the tumour, leading to decreased oxygen levels and tumour cell death. When tumours lack oxygen and nutrients they become what we call necrotic."
Postovit and her team have already tested this theory on mice. By turning off the expression of Nodal, the blood vessels in the tumour collapsed and the cancer became less aggressive.
It has yet to be tested on humans, but Postovit believes doctors will be able to target the protein with antibodies.
"In Canada, breast cancer continues to be one of the most common forms of cancer in women. Although new treatment methods have improved outcomes, a significant number of women still die from this disease," Dr. Morag Park, scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, said in a press release.
"Research advancements, such as Dr. Postovit's, have contributed and will continue to contribute to the improvements around our understanding of cancer progression and treatment. I congratulate Dr. Postovit and the team on this advancement and its significant contribution to this field."