"New research led by a scientist at the University of York reveals that a process that forms a key element in the development of the nervous system may also play a pivotal role in the spread of breast cancer.
A research team, led by Dr Will Brackenbury, a Medical Research Council Fellow in the Department of Biology at York, has studied how voltage-gated sodium channels assist in the metastasis of cancerous tumours. These channels are found in the membranes of excitable cells, such as neurons, where they are involved in transmission of electrical impulses. However, the channels have also been found in metastatic cancer cells.
Using clinical breast cancer specimens from the Breast Cancer Campaign Tissue Bank and preclinical laboratory modelling, the researchers, including Dr Rebecca Millican-Slater, a consultant pathologist at St James University Hospital, Leeds, discovered that a sodium channel protein called Beta-one is present at high levels in breast cancer samples compared with normal tissue.
In research published in the International Journal of Cancer, they show for the first time that the increase in beta-one protein levels make tumours grow faster. They also discovered that Beta-one proteins play a significant role in enabling the cells to change shape and move, and consequently metastasise.