The spread of cancer, termed metastasis, is the major cause of poor health and death in cancer patients, however, currently there are very few therapies that are effective at combating this aspect of cancer.
The identification of factors that are fundamental to the spread of cancers and the development of new drugs towards these factors to stop their action are greatly needed.
A cancer cell is exposed to high levels of stress due to factors like nutrient depravation, oxygen starvation, genetic mutations and therapeutic treatments. To cope with this stress, the cancer cell produces proteins called stress proteins that allow the cancer cell to survive.
However, it is also known that cancer cell stress can also promote the ability of a cancer to grow, metastasize and avoid death by conventional cancer therapies. To date, little is known regarding how stress stimulates a cancer cell to metastasize.
We have identified a factor, called HSF1, which associates with metastasis and poor prognosis in breast cancer patients. This factor, in both normal and cancer cells, helps a cell cope with stresses by switching on stress proteins. The objective of this project is to determine the effects of HSF1 on breast cancer cell biology, tumour growth and metastasis and determine how it achieves this. Moreover, we will study whether we can identify factors that can prevent it from working and therefore, may provide the framework for developing drugs to stop breast cancer metastasis.
To date, we have confirmed that HSF1 increases aspects of cancer cell biology that are important in cancer metastasis such as cancer cell migration, growth and survival. In addition, we have identified other factors, that are not classical stress proteins, which are controlled by HSF1 and have been previously shown to be important in metastasis.
The findings of this project to date provide the basis for developing ways in the coming year to identify inhibitors of HSF1 that can be tested to determine whether they are effective in stopping metastasis through preventing cancer cell migration, growth and survival.