Targeting tumour cell “feet” to block breast cancer metastasis

New research project funded by the Cancer Foundation 2016 - 07 -07

Targeting tumour cell “feet” to block breast cancer metastasis

Luxembourg’s Cancer Foundation (Fondation Cancer) supports a research project at LIH’s Department of Oncology that aims to develop a novel strategy to inhibit metastasis in breast cancer.

On 6th July 2016, Lucienne Thommes, Director of the Cancer Foundation and Dr Danielle Hansen-Koenig, Vice-President of the Cancer Foundation, handed over a check of 455 336 € to Dr Clément Thomas, principal investigator at the Laboratory of Experimental Cancer Research, in the presence of Dr Catherine Larue, CEO of LIH.

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed and the most fatal cancer in women. As in many other cancer types, the formation of metastases is the leading cause of death (90%). However there is no available targeted therapy to prevent breast cancer metastasis.

During an early stage of metastasis, tumour cells acquire invasive characteristics allowing them to leave the primary tumour, infiltrate neighbouring tissues and digest physical barriers, such as the wall of blood and lymph vessels. Tumour cell invasiveness is associated with the formation of protease-rich membrane protrusions, named invadopodia (literally "invasive feet"), with which the cells can progress through tissues by degrading the extracellular matrix. Invadopodia represent promising therapeutic targets to block the metastatic process. The team of Dr Clément Thomas, which is part of the Laboratory of Experimental Cancer Research led by Dr Guy Berchem, is particularly interested in proteins that control the assembly and stabilisation of the actin cytoskeleton in invadopodia with the objective of identifying molecular targets for inhibiting invadopodia formation and/or activity in breast cancer cells.

The support of the Cancer Foundation will contribute to the continuation of a research programme that has already yielded promising results. In particular, the research team will study how critical factors of the tumour microenvironment, such as hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in the primary tumour, influence the expression and activity of key actin cytoskeleton components involved in invadopodia formation, and thereby promote metastasis. The clinical potential of these components to treat breast cancers associated with high metastatic risk will be assessed. Eventually, the inactivation of these proteins, in combination with current therapies, could prevent the development of metastases.

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From left to right: Dr Catherine Larue (CEO of LIH), Dr Clément Thomas (principal investigator, Department of Oncology, LIH), Dr Danielle Hansen-Koenig (Vice-President of the Cancer Foundation) and Lucienne Thommes (Director of the Cancer Foundation).

Read also the press release from the Cancer Foundation available in French and German