University of Pittsburgh
December 9, 2004

Pitt Researchers Find Potential New Method to Slow Spread of Breast Cancer

"Exciting but preliminary" results were announced Monday at meeting of American Society for Cell Biology
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PITTSBURGH—University of Pittsburgh researchers announced Monday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology that they have found a way to suppress migration of breast cancer cells in vitro. Their findings, which they stressed were "exciting, but preliminary," could have applications for slowing the spread of breast cancer through the body.

Partha Roy, assistant professor of bioengineering at Pitt, and Kenneth Jacobson, professor of cell and developmental biology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, found that when breast cancer cells were made to express high levels of the protein profilin, they migrated significantly less than did those with normal levels of the protein.

Previous studies had shown that breast cancer cells that were more invasive—that migrated more quickly throughout the body—had lower levels of profilin than other breast cancer cells. "So we thought, 'Why don't we overexpress the protein and see whether we can slow down the migration?' " said Roy.

Roy will next determine the best method of slowing cell migration by investigating other ways of perturbing profilin, such as inhibiting its expression. "If you take out the profilin, the cell is probably not going to be able to migrate efficiently, either," said Roy. "There must be an optimum window of profilin concentration that cells require to migrate efficiently."

Roy estimates those studies will take a few years, after which his group will begin tests using mice to see whether their cancer metastasizes more slowly if they are injected with cells with or without perturbed profilin.

Depending on the results of the mice studies, the researchers' findings could be used to design therapeutic interventions for breast cancer.