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New therapeutic target could prevent the invasion of cancer cells


Montreal, QC – A team of researchers at the IRCM, led by Jean-François Côté, have discovered a potential new therapeutic target to prevent the invasion of cancer cells, which could have a significant impact on breast cancer treatment. Their breakthrough was published online this week by the scientific journal Molecular and Cellular Biology.

The researchers are interested in understanding the molecular details involved in metastasis, which is the spread of cancer from one organ to another. This harmful process accounts for nearly 90 percent of cancer patient deaths.

“We investigated a molecule called Axl, which is detected at the surface of cancer cells and is known to be involved in various types of invasive cancer,” said Dr. Côté, director of the Cytoskeletal Organization and Cell Migration research unit at the IRCM. “In fact, a high amount of Axl on breast tumours is closely associated with metastasis and a poor prognosis for patients. The molecule’s mechanisms remain poorly understood, but we are now excited to have found how it works inside the cell.”

“With this study, we showed that Axl activates a novel chain of events that leads to cell invasion,” added Afnan Abu-Thuraia, first author of the article and doctorate student in Dr. Côté’s laboratory. “More precisely, we demonstrated that Axl modifies a protein known as ELMO in order to robustly induce the spread of breast cancer cells.”

“Our results allowed us to identify ELMO as a new potential therapeutic target to prevent the invasion of cancer cells and the formation of metastasis,” said Dr. Côté. “This discovery could eventually lead to the development of new treatments for triple negative breast cancer.”

Triple negative breast cancer accounts for 15 to 20 percent of all breast cancers and is associated with a poor prognosis and increased risk of metastasis to vital organs. It is characterized by the absence of three key receptors typically targeted by standard breast cancer treatments. As such, no targeted therapy is currently available for triple negative breast cancer.