Scientists have identified a specialised protein that stops tumour cells from entering the bloodstream and spreading to other parts of the body.
Researchers from John Hopkins University, the University of Alberta and Universitat Pompeu Fabra, discovered that the protein, TRPM7, could prevent cancer metastasising into other parts of the body from where it originates.
"We have discovered that this protein, TRPM7, senses the pressure of fluid flowing in the circulation and stops the cells from spreading through the vascular system," said Kaustav Bera, a Johns Hopkins University PhD candidate in chemical and biomolecular engineering, and a lead author of the study.
"We found that metastatic tumor cells have markedly reduced levels of this sensor protein, and that is why they efficiently enter into the circulation rather than turning away from fluid flow."
The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that artificially increasing the expression of TRPM7 may help stop intravasation, and ultimately metastasis, in its tracks.
"The process is akin to what happens when you touch a hot kettle, feel it's hot, and remove your hand," said senior study author Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and member of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.
The protein senses the flow of the fluid in the circulatory system and instructs the cell to reverse direction, thereby inhibiting intravasation, he added.
Christopher Yankaskas, a former member of Konstantopoulos' team, said: "Many people will be diagnosed with a primary tumor, but as long as this tumor is contained, a surgical procedure can save the person."
Patient data also showed that those with osteosarcoma, breast, gastric, and liver cancer who expressed high levels of TRPM7 were more likely to live longer than those with lower levels of the protein.
More research is needed into how exactly the protein can block cancer metastasis, but it is already known to help cells regulate their magnesium, calcium, and zinc levels.