Thursday, May 23, 2013

POTENTIAL BLOCKBUSTER: New Research Shows Cancer Cells Could Be Prevented Before They Even Develop

Fernando Lopez-Diaz & Beverly Emerson from Salk Institute
There's more potentially blockbuster cancer news out of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, where scientists today announced the discovery of a survival mechanism that occurs in breast cells that have just turned premalignant which may eventually lead to new ways of essentially stopping tumors before they start. In their groundbreaking Molecular Cell study, the Salk researchers report that a protein known as transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β), considered a tumor suppressor in early cancer development, can actually promote cancer once a cell drifts into a pre-cancerous state.

The discovery, which was a surprise to the investigators, raises the almost unthinkably positive prospect that, with novel treatment, some cancers might be prevented before they even develop. If all this sounds counterintuitive, well, Salk researchers are evidently and thankfully adept at thinking way out of the box.

“Our work suggests it might be possible to halt cancer development in premalignant cells - those that are just a few divisions away from being normal,” says the study’s lead author, Fernando Lopez-Diaz, a researcher in the Regulatory Biology Laboratory at Salk.

Beverly M. Emerson, a Salk professor, head of the lab and the study’s senior author, says this study offers "both significant insights into early cancer development and a new direction to explore in cancer treatment. It would be fantastic if a single agent could shut down both advanced cancer and cancer that is primed to develop.”

That is, of course, an understatement. While this is a new discovery and far from being something to discuss with your oncologist, this finding could represent a monumental breakthrough in cancer treatment. Oncologists might even use this discovery to predict whether premalignant cells in a patient are destined to become malignant cancer. 

“Not all premalignant cells morph into cancer,” Emerson notes. “Many self-destruct due to cellular protective mechanisms. But some will become tumors and, at this point, there is no way to predict which of these cells are a risk.”

Lopez-Diaz emphasizes that there's much work yet to do. “We want to understand the signals that turn TGF-β into a bad guy,” he says. “If we know that, we might be able to inhibit those signals, and force damaged cells to die, as they should. That may offer us another treatment possibility, along with TGF-β inhibitors now being tested.”


  1. Jamie:

    STAY ON THIS STORY!!!!!!!! This is the most important story to break this week, regardless of the IRS, Benghazi or AP stories. Unlike the other stories out there, this is a truly "good news" story This is way beyond politics. This is about where people live and, unfortunately, die. Cancer is very, very bad. We need to take it down. I think you're on to something very, very big.
    Best regards,
    John Cook

    1. Thank you, John. I must agree with you, and I appreciate the input. Stay tuned, I will indeed stay on top of this!

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