Researchers have discovered something that could mean greatly increased ability to fight cancer in humans. The scientists have discovered a biological barrier that prevents cancer cells from forming new tumors. More importantly, the new discovery also prevents cancer from metastasizing.
The scientists found that activin B and ALK7 expressed by cancer cells can form a “barrier” that prevents them from creating new tumors and from moving to other parts of the body. The team studied the ALK7 signaling pathway in mice with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors or breast cancer. They found when the receptor was activated by activin B; cancer cells died via a process called apoptosis.
The team found that when ALK7 activation is blocked cancer cells evaded death and metastasized to various organs like the liver, lungs, and brain. The cancer was able to bypass the B/ALK7 “barrier” by either downregulation of activin B and/or downregulating ALK7. The discovery is said to reinforce the notion that apoptosis is an important barrier in tumorigenesis and is a hallmark capability of cancer cells during malignancy and metastasis.
The study also found that the presence of ALK7 correlated with prolonged relapse-free survival for patients with various cancers. Higher levels of ALK7 expression were also associated with longer periods before metastasis became apparent in breast-cancer patients.
The study found a previously unappreciated role for a protective activin b/ALK7 barriers that triggers apoptosis in ALK7-expressing cells that aren’t “authorized” to proliferate in a particular tissue. The discovery is said to be an important step towards understanding tumor biology and disease pathogenesis and how cancer cells can overcome the body’s various “safety checkpoints.”