JAK Boots – these cells were made for marching

… the JAK Protein, Metastases and Aggressive Cancer

The sad fact is that 90% of deaths caused by cancer occur following metastasis. Identifying the process that enables tumours to spread is therefore central to much current research.

A protein called JAK has been identified which is involved in the process that allows cancer cells to generate the forces needed to invade surrounding areas. The most difficult cancers to treat are those that spread or migrate to others parts of the body to form metastases. Not only does this spread cause increased complexity for surgeons and oncologists, but these secondary cancers are also known to be more aggressive. 90% of deaths caused by cancer occur following metastasis. The article that appeared in the journal Cancer Cell stresses that the identification of the JAK protein is significant as cell biologists are always seeking new markers that help to distinguish enemy from friendly cells without too much collateral damage. A good marker creates a target for treatment, because cancer treatments attempt with variable success to specifically kill only the cancer cells. Further, a marker that is specifically related to aggression would theoretically lend itself more to effective treatments.

The authors studied a highly aggressive form of skin cancer called melanoma, and described how aggressive cancer cells move in two ways, as follows:

  • The cells form protrusions that "elbow" their way out of a tumour
  • The tumour itself can force gaps or grooves through healthy tissue.

In both instances the force processes involved are controlled by JAK.

JAK has previously been linked to leukaemia, so some drugs are already being developed, but the new study highlights the additional benefit that these drugs may also dampen the aggression and hence help to prevent spread. However, as ever, more research is needed.

Further information on treating aggressive tumours is available on an excellent article by Mr Dirk Strauss.

Abnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. Full medical glossary
The basic unit of all living organisms. Full medical glossary
The basic unit of genetic material carried on chromosomes. Full medical glossary
A malignant condition in which increased numbers of white blood cells, leucocytes, are produced in an immature or abnormal state. Full medical glossary
A malignant tumour arising from pigmented cells or melanocytes, most often in the skin Full medical glossary
Secondary tumours’ that result from the spread of a malignant tumour to other parts of the body. Full medical glossary
The spread of a malignant tumour to other parts of the body. Full medical glossary
A specialist in the treatment of cancer. Full medical glossary
Compounds that form the structure of muscles and other tissues in the body, as well as comprising enzymes and hormones. Full medical glossary
A tumour or abnormal swelling that results from the spread of another malignant (uncontrolled) tumour to a distant part of the body. Full medical glossary
Relating to injury or concern. Full medical glossary
A group of cells with a similar structure and a specialised function. Full medical glossary
An abnormal swelling. Full medical glossary
Liable to vary or change. Full medical glossary