Breakthrough promising in the fight against metastases

The structure of a receptor that plays a vital role in the migration of cancer cells from a home of origin to a secondary site has been described by French scientists at the Paul Scherrer Institute.

The researcher Steffen Brünle and his colleagues in structural biology believe that their work could eventually lead to the creation of a drug from active agents preventing the formation of metastases of certain cancerous tumors.


  • A metastasis is a group of cancer cells that have migrated from a home of origin via the blood or lymphatic circulation to secondary sites;
  • Cancer is always linked to its starting point. For example, a prostate cancer that has sent metastases to the bone remains a prostate cancer. It does not turn into bone cancer. A cancer of the bone is an entirely different cancerous tumor, whose starting point is in the cells of the bone;
  • Localized cancer means that the cancer is confined to the place where it has appeared and has not spread to other parts of the body;
  • Regional spread means that the cancer has spread (metastasized) to the surrounding tissues or organs or has spread to the surrounding lymph nodes;
  • Remote metastases mean that the cancer has established itself in a part of the body that is far from where it appeared.

Killer metastases

Metastases are responsible for about 90% of cancer patient deaths. They represent a central research area in oncology.

The lymphatic system, which travels the entire body and connects the lymph nodes with each other, is one of the main responsible for the spread of cancer cells.

It is from this system that white blood cells coordinate the fight against pathogens, and a particular membrane protein, the chemokine receptor 7 (CCR7), plays an important role in this defensive onslaught.

CCR7 is in the cell envelope, the cell membrane, which allows it to capture external signals and transmit them inside.

In the present works, the researchers have managed to decipher its structure. A breakthrough that can lay the foundations for the development of a substance that could inhibit the formation of metastases of some common cancers, such as the colon.

Did you know?
In Canada, more than 200,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year and 80,000 people die from it.
In recent years, cancer incidence has decreased 1.7% per year for men, while it has increased by 0.4% per year for women.

Tests in progress

The authors of this work published in the journal Cell (New Window) have already tested the artificial active ingredients of a certain molecule that can stop cell migration.

The appropriate molecule can prevent the signaling protein from binding to the receptor and causing a reaction within the cell.

Steffen Brünle, researcher

Our experiments show that the artificial molecule binds to the receptor inside the cell. This prevents the start of the chain reaction that causes cell migration , explains Steffen Brünle.

One of the active substances studied by researchers has already been tested, in clinical studies, by the pharmaceutical industry as a potential drug against the formation of metastases.

However, researchers thought so far that it binds to another receptor than that of CCR7 and blocked another function of cancer cells.

Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson is just getting his start as a journalist, he mostly worked on freelancer websites as an exceptional ghostwriter. Apart from being a contributor to the site, Ben also helps keep BleeBot up and running, he also keeps our social media feeds up-to-date.

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