Cancer treatments do not always produce positive results despite advanced treatments and procedures designed to fight off the disease. Even with patients previously cleared of the disease, things could suddenly turn upside down when the tumors come back and quickly spread to other parts of the body.

Deaths linked to cancer are, more often than not, the result of metastasis, but no drug has been manufactured to address this issue since most pharmaceutical research focus on removing primary tumors.

A team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins University, however, decided to look into the process of metastasis and find a way to control cancer cells from spreading.

The Root Of Metastasis

A study published in Nature Communications on May 26 reveals that two proteins are responsible for the biochemical process that initiates the migration of cancer cells.

According to Johns Hopkins postdoctoral fellow and study lead author Hasini Jayatilaka, metastasis is actually determined by cell density and not the size of a tumor. The team's observations showed that when a tumor is heavily packed with cancer cells, two proteins — Interleukin 6 (IL-6) and Interleukin 8 (IL-8) — trigger a biochemical process that communicates instructions for cells to find a less dense area to inhabit.

"It's like waiting for a table in a severely overcrowded restaurant and then getting a message that says you need to take your appetite elsewhere," Dr. Jayatilaka explained.

Dr. Jayatilaka says that pharmaceutical companies are under the impression that metastasis is a by-product of tumors, which explains why no commercial drugs are available to address the issue.

A Way To Control Metastasis

To address this, the team performed a series of animal studies and tested available drugs on IL-6 and IL-8.

The researchers found that using a combination of Tocilizumab and Reparixin blocked off the receptors that instructed cancer cells to migrate.

Tocilizumab is an FDA-approved medicine for rheumatoid arthritis, while Reparixin is under evaluation as possible breast cancer treatment.

"In our eight-week experiment, when we used these two drugs together, the growth of the primary tumor itself was not stopped, but the spread of the cancer cells was significantly decreased," Dr. Jayatilaka revealed.

The team warns that the treatment has yet to be tested on human cancer patients, but they are at least confident that their study will contribute greatly to cancer research.

If their research proves successful in human trials, however, it could improve the outcome and give hope to cancer patients.

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