Enzyme could provide key to understanding spread of cancer

by Andrew Moir

Cancer is Scotland’s biggest cause of preature death with over 25,000 people contracting the disease every year.  Now scientists at London’s Instsitute of Cancer Reseach may have made a breakthrough that could prevent 9 out of 10 cancer deaths.

The Enzyme lysyl oxidase – or LOX for short-  helps proteins stick together which can help make areas of the body more hospitable for cancer cells.  Metastasis, the process by which cancer spreads is the biggest cause of cancer deaths.  Once cancer cells get into the bloodstream secondary tumours can be caused.  This makes cancer more difficult to treat.  Without this spread it is thought that cancer could be treated more effectively with surgery.

The experiments have been carried out on mice who were transplanted with breast cancer cells.  One group was given normal cancer cells while the others were given cells without LOX.  The results were promising with a significant reduction in secondary tumours in those mice with treated cells.  While it is still in the early process it is hoped that this technique could eventually be used on other types of cancer cells and provide a practical treatment for the disease.

The research was carried out by Dr Janine Erler and was published in the journal Cancer Cell.  Dr Erler has said:

This research has identified how to prevent a cancer from establishing itself in a new area of the body. This is the crucial missing piece in the jigsaw that scientists have been searching for and is the first time one key enzyme has been identified as being responsible for effectively allowing the cancer to spread.


LOX works by sending out signals to prepare a new area of the body for the cancer to set up camp. Without this preparation process the new environment would be too hostile for the cancer to grow. If we can interrupt the body’s ability to prepare new locations for the cancer to spread to, we can effectively prevent cancer metastasis

More than 15,000 scots are killed by cancer every year.  The benefits of this research have the potential to affect many lives beyond.