What is Combating Metastases?
Metastatic cancer is the term used to describe any cancer that has spread from the area it started in to other areas of the body. For some types of cancer, metastasis is also called stage IV cancer, and metastatic cancers are often hard to control.
Cancer can spread to any part of the body, but the most common sites of metastasis are the bones, brain, liver and lungs. Although metastasis causes more than 90% of cancer-related deaths, it only receives less than 5% of research funding.
NFCR Research Highlights
Dr. Danny Welch directs the NFCR Center for Metastasis Research. Through their research, Dr. Welch and his team have discovered eight of the more than 30 known metastasis suppressor genes. Further research based on these discoveries may lead to the design of molecules that either prevent metastasis from happening or maintain metastatic tumors in a dormant state. They have also identified genetic changes that predict whether or not patients will develop metastasis. At least some of these genetic changes occur in mitochondria – where cells convert nutrients into energy. Mitochondrial DNA is present in every cell and is small enough to be rapidly analyzed, which means that a simple blood draw and analysis of mitochondrial DNA could be used to help treat patients.
NFCR-funded scientist Dr. Daniel Haber developed the CTC-iChip – an advanced micro-engineered device that captures extremely rare circulating tumor cells from the blood. Genetic testing on captured CTCs may give doctors a way to more effectively treat the tumor or stop it from spreading. Moreover, CTCs allow the response of treatments to be monitored in real-time. This device could dramatically improve treatment and diagnosis for many different types of metastatic cancers, including metastatic breast cancer.
Dr. Alice Shaw’s laboratory, which is supported by NFCR, focuses on developing new strategies to overcome lung cancer treatment resistance. She is now focusing new research on the brain, which is the most common site of metastasis for anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) positive non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). She is looking into why these tumor growths become resistant to crizotinib (Xalkori®). Her team launched a clinical trial with the newest ALK inhibitor – lorlatinib – and they are using both tissue and liquid biopsies to identify genetic alterations that may be driving the resistance.