Researchers at the Georgetown University Lombardi cancer center, New Orleans have identified and isolated a protein that they say, is responsible for the spread of colon cancer to the liver. The protein, called Pa 28 alpha, can also cause the spread of other cancers, according to lead investigator Justinian Ngaiza, a clinical fellow in hematology/oncology at Georgetown's Lombardi Cancer Center.
To isolate the protein, Ngaiza and colleagues took genes expressed by colon tumor cells grown in the laboratory and converted them into proteins. Thousands of different proteins were injected into the mice, and two, Pa28 being one of them, targeted the liver.
The investigators are now researching if these proteins are capable of being expressed in human tumour biopsies. This being successful, the next step would be to develop a drug to block the action of Pa 28 alpha.
They are also hoping to inject tumour cells into mice from which the protein has been removed, to check if the tumour cells still spread to the liver.