A new study says that a key enzyme present in skin cancer cells might be responsible for the metastasis or triggering the spread of the cancer to other parts of the body.
The enzyme named focal adhesion kinase (FAK) is actually a critical component of the healthy cell and plays a vital role in many cellular activities. But this enzyme's less than helpful role in malignant melanoma or skin cancer is causing worry among the scientific community. In fact this enzyme is the culprit in the aggressiveness of other cancers including that of the eye, prostate, thyroid, colorectal, ovarian and oral cancers. Angela R. Hess, a research scientist at Children's Memorial Research Center in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and lead author of the current study says that the main aim of the study was to understand the role played by the enzyme so that future treatment regimens can target it at an early stage and thus reduce the mortality associated with various cancers.
"The important thing is that the cancer cell, in and of itself, has a very deregulated system so the FAK protein can make the cell go wild when it's inappropriately active," she said.
The researchers note that the increased levels of the enzyme were responsible for the cancer invading healthy tissues. When they halted the FAK activity in certain aggressive cancers, the researchers found that there was a 70 percent decrease in the ability of the tumor to invade surrounding normal tissues. "Basically the major point is that we're trying to understand what enables melanoma tumor cells to move out from the initial primary tumor to another site in the body, because once that happens melanoma tends to become very difficult to treat and the five-year survival rate drops considerably," Hess said. The details of the study are available in the November issue of the journal Cancer Research.