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Fighting melanoma's attraction to the brain

The process of metastasis, by which cancer cells travel from a tumor site and proliferate at other sites in the body, is a serious threat to cancer patients. According to the National Cancer Institute, most recurrences of cancer are metastases rather than "new" cancers.

Virtually all types of cancer can spread to other parts of the body, including the brain. Once metastatic melanoma cells are entrenched in the brain, patients typically have only a few months to live.

Now Prof. Isaac Witz and his team at Tel Aviv University's Department of Cell Research and Immunology are delving deeper into what attracts metastatic melanoma cells to the brain, and how they survive and prosper in this environment. Their experiments have discovered that melanoma cells produce receptors for two chemokines a family of small proteins secreted by cells present in the brain tissue. These receptors may act as a homing device, drawing the cancerous cells to the brain.

"These interactions between the chemokines in the brain and the melanoma cell receptors could be potential targets for new therapies," Prof. Witz says. "With medications that suppress these molecules, you could hope to interfere with this specific migration." Published in the International Journal of Cancer, this research is supported by the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation.

A dangerous attraction

Although metastasis is a well-understood process, researchers are still trying to uncover the underlying mechanisms of why cancer cells begin to migrate in the first place. It is also crucial to understand what allows them to sustain themselves, divide, and propagate once they have arrived at their new location.

To better understand metastacized melanoma cells in the brain, the researchers cultured brain tissue in the lab, then analyzed all of the materials that were expressed by the cells. They identified certain chemokine

Contact: George Hunka
American Friends of Tel Aviv University

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