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University of Iowa researchers propose a model to explain the spread
of an eye cancer
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Cancer that develops in one part of the body often
spreads to another site in a process called metastasis.
Scientists have not worked out the details to explain how cancer spreads
throughout the body or why some forms of the disease distribute to specific
organs. However, research conducted at the University of Iowa College of
Medicine sheds new light on the mysteries of metastasis.
The work was a collaborative effort between Dr. Mary J.C. Hendrix, professor
and head of anatomy and cell biology, and associate director for basic
research at the UI Cancer Center; Dr. Robert Folberg, F.C. Blodi Professor
of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, and professor of pathology; their
colleagues in those departments; and the UI Cancer Center.
The investigators studied a cancer of the eye known as uveal melanoma
-- a potentially blinding and fatal form of cancer that tends to spread
to the liver. Currently, the most common forms of treatment for the cancer
are radiation therapy, which may cause blindness or removal of the eye.
The UI research may lead to new forms of vision-sparing treatments that
prolong the life of the patients. The findings, published in the current
issue of the American Journal of Pathology and illustrated on the journal's
cover, may also help scientists better understand the metastatic process.
There are proteins located inside normal cells that help maintain the
cell's shape. In some forms of cancer, however, abnormal shape-maintaining
proteins appear, thus increasing the likelihood that the cancer will spread.
This is true for other forms of cancer, not just uveal melanoma.
The researchers found that malignant eye cells containing the abnormal
proteins respond to a substance called hepatocyte growth factor/scatter
factor, also known as HGF/SF. HGF/SF attracts blood vessels into the tumor
and causes the cancer cells to divide, change shape and spread. The liver
is a major site of HGF/SF production, and uveal melanoma tends to spread
to that organ selectively.
Hendrix believes that this research can help explain how cancer cells
begin to invade and distribute throughout the body.
"We hope that this experimental work will provide us and others
with data to design new and more effective forms of cancer treatment,"
This work was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute,
the National Eye Institute, the UI Endowment, and Research to Prevent Blindness,