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Defective Protein Linked to Spread of Lung Cancer

FILE - A physician uses a CT scanner to screen a patient for lung cancer at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua, June 3, 2010.

Researchers in Britain have discovered a protein that plays a role in the spread of lung cancer. The finding could lead to a therapy to prevent cancer metastasis, reducing cancer deaths.

Experts say nine out of 10 people who die of cancer do so because of metastasis, the process in which cancer cells travel through the bloodstream or lymph system to establish new tumors that are hard to treat. So, finding a therapy that prevents the spread of cancer could improve survival.

Researchers at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, part of the University of Manchester in England, have discovered a protein, TIAM1, that keeps cells from migrating but becomes defective in lung cancer. The disease is one of the world's leading causes of cancer death.

When cancer undermines TIAM1, "the bonds holding the lung cells together are more easily broken apart, and the cells can move away more easily and move around the body," said Emma Smith, a spokeswoman for the institute.

Smith said the spread of cancer, to places such as the brain and liver, leads to organ failure and death.

Researchers are now trying to develop a treatment to bolster the action of TIAM1. The work is in its early stages, Smith said, but the goal "is to design a therapy to target this molecule, to restore its function, and this would actually stop lung cancer spreading. [Cancer cells] would remain docked at the primary tumor."

An article describing TIAM1 and its role in cancer metastasis is published in the journal Cell Reports.