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Key protein behind aggressive forms of endometrial cancer

02 May 2014 European Society of Endocrinology

Aggressive forms of endometrial cancer are linked to high levels of a specific protein within cancer cells, according to research presented today at the European Congress of Endocrinology in Wrocłow, Poland. The findings could allow researchers to slow down aggressive progression of this cancer, which was diagnosed in 320,000 women and caused 76,000 deaths worldwide in 2012.

Endometrial cancer is the 14th most deadly cancer for women worldwide and affects 98,000 people in Europe.  Around three quarters of cases are found in women aged over 55. The most common types of endometrial cancer are known as carcinomas. There are three grades of endometrial cancer based on how much the cancer forms glands that look similar to the glands found in normal, healthy endometrium. Grade 3 ‘high grade’ cancers tend to be aggressive and are more likely to spread to other parts of the body. These types of cancer have a poor outlook.

In this study, a team of researchers from the National Yang-Ming University in Taipei compared different grades of endometrial carcinomas and normal endometrial tissues to find that endometrial carcinomas have higher levels of a protein called Neuromedin U (NMU). Previously, NMU has shown to play a role in muscle contraction, regulating blood pressure and appetite.

The researchers then investigated the role NMU by suppressing the NMU gene production in both high-graded and low-graded endometrial cancer cell lines. They found that the high-graded cancer cells were slower to grow and found it harder to move; this may reduce the likelihood of the aggressive cancer spreading to other parts of the body through metastasis.

“Our results show that high levels of NMU in endometrial cancer cells might maintain the ability of metastasis”, said lead author of the study Mr Ting-Yu Lin. “This does not show that NMU causes grade 1 endometrial carcinomas to progress to grade 3 stage but does give us an insight into one of the potential causes of aggression.”

Researchers will next test whether NMU has the same effect on the development of endometrial cancer in live mice. “If we can use NMU as a treatment target of high-graded endometrial carcinomas, we can slow down the level of cancer progression. This could potentially save lives”.


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