Scientists find the key cause of the spread of cancer to the brain

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Approximately 200,000 cancer patients are diagnosed with brain metastases each year, yet few treatment options exist because the mechanisms that allow cancer to spread to the brain remain unclear.

In a new study, researchers offer hope for the development of future therapies by showing how a poorly understood gene plays a big role in the process.

Their findings could provide a marker to help doctors diagnose brain metastases early, as well as provide a target for the development of new drugs to prevent and treat brain metastases.

The research was conducted by a team at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The gene, known as YTHDF3, correlates with brain cancer metastases and poor survival outcomes in breast cancer patients.

It is required for multiple steps in the brain metastatic process.

In the study, the team discovered that breast cancer brain metastases have increased YTHDF3 gene copy numbers in comparison to primary breast tumors.

A gene’s copy number refers to the number of times it appears in the genome. Additional copies of YTHDF3 in metastatic tumor DNA show that mutations have occurred as the cancer cells replicated and spread.

Using a variety of techniques, the researchers developed a comprehensive view of how it facilitates key processes for brain cancer metastasis through its role in the production of various proteins that interact with the brain microenvironment.

Through these experiments, they found that YTHDF3 contributed to the expression of a number of genes known to drive cancer development.

Mouse models lacking the YTHDF3 gene showed prolonged survival and resistance to brain metastasis development.

Now that the researchers have shown how critical this gene is to the development of brain metastases, they plan to work on synthesizing drugs that can inhibit its function.

They are hopeful this research will eventually help save lives.

One author of the study is VCU Massey Cancer Center scientist Suyun Huang, M.D., Ph.D.

The study is published in Cancer Cell.

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