Study says low oxygen levels may trigger spread of breast cancer

By Caribbean Medical News Staff

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that low oxygen levels may trigger the production of proteins that may promote the spread of breast cancer cells. The proteins identified are RhoA and ROCK1 and are present in low oxygen conditions, according to researchers.

Dr. Gregg Semenza of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and senior author of the study said, “As tumour cells multiply, the interior of the tumour begins to run out of oxygen because it isn’t being fed by blood vessels. The lack of oxygen activates the hypoxia-inducible factors, which are master control proteins that switch on many genes that help cells adapt to the scarcity of oxygen.”

According to Semenza, these conditions activate genes that allow cancer cells to break away and spread to other areas of the body.   Lead study author Daniele Gilkes , also of John Hopkins University,  said that when breast cancer cells were exposed to low levels of oxygen, these cells also had significantly more movement than those to typical oxygen levels.

According to reports, “when Gilkes reduced the hypoxia-inducible factors, the breast cancer cells saw reduced movement, as well as a reduced number of filaments and hands”.

“We have successfully decreased the mobility of breast cancer cells in the lab by using genetic tricks to knock the hypoxia-inducible factors down.

Now that we understand the mechanism at play, we hope that clinical trials will be performed to test whether drugs that inhibit hypoxia-inducible factors will have the double effect of blocking production of RhoA and ROCK1 and preventing metastases in women with breast cancer,” Gilkes added.

This movement of cells is known to produce more negative outcomes for those suffering with breast cancer she concluded.

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