Cancer Diagnostics / Disease States / Health

Advance in breast cancer research alters previous thinking

Advance in Breast Cancer research alters previous thinkingAn advance in breast cancer research has been made by scientists at the University of East Anglia that shows some enzymes which are released by cancerous cells could actually have a protective effect.

The research reveals that the MMP-8 (matrix-metalloproteinase-8) enzyme could be acting as a locator to the immune system which activates to attack tumours. Originally, it was thought that breast cancer cells produced MMPs to promote cancer growth.

Lead researcher, Prof Dylan Edwards, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences said: “MMPs are a family of enzymes that are released from cancer cells. They were once thought to act like molecular scissors, to snip away at the scaffolding structures outside cells and clear a path for the cancer cells to invade and spread to other organs. Drugs that target this broad family of enzymes were trialled to treat cancer in the 1990s but largely failed. This led us to think that not all these enzymes were bad guys that promoted tumour growth and spread.”

Scientists looked in detail at the patterns of MMPs in breast tumours from patients. Research conducted previously highlighted that MMP-8 is protective, holding tumours in check. Patients whose breast tumours have more MMP-8 seem to have improved outcomes.

This latest research shows that when breast cancer cells are made to produce MMP-8, it causes them to produce IL-6 and IL-8 – two inflammatory factors. These two markers have previously been shown to promote cancer. Breast tumour cells that over-produce MMP-8 do not survive longer term, as the enzyme stops them growing.

Prof. Edwards said “we now think that in tumours, MMP-8 acts as a sort of ‘find me’ signal to the immune system, which then becomes activated to attack the tumour, which may help explain its protective function”.

Although it remains unclear how MMP-8 activates IL-6 and IL-8, this research is a significant finding to help direct future research.



Randox Laboratories provide a number of tumour marker arrays used in the detection and screening of various cancers.  For more information, visit the Biochip Immunoassays section of the website.

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