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VA RESEARCH QUARTERLY UPDATE
This Issue: Chronic Disease Care | Table of Contents: Spring 2017 | Download this issue

Noteworthy Publications

VA researchers pinpoint gene linked to colorectal cancer spread


New research shows Sprouty gene suppresses tumor metastasis in breast, prostate, and liver cancer, but not colon cancer.
<em>(Photo: ©iStockvitanovski)</em>
New research shows Sprouty gene suppresses tumor metastasis in breast, prostate, and liver cancer, but not colon cancer. (Photo ©iStockvitanovski)

New research shows Sprouty gene suppresses tumor metastasis in breast, prostate, and liver cancer, but not colon cancer. (Photo ©iStockvitanovski)

"Sprouty" might sound like something you pick up in the produce section at Whole Foods, but it's actually a gene. The Sprouty2 gene, which expresses a particular protein (SPRY2), suppresses tumor spreading, referred to as metastasis, in breast, prostate, and liver cancer. But researchers at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital in Columbia, Missouri, and University of Missouri discovered that the gene functions differently in colorectal cancer.

Surprisingly, SPRY2 may actually promote metastasis in colorectal cancer. The researchers, headed by principle investigator Dr. Sharad Khare, studied the gene in cell models, mouse models, and human biopsy samples to determine how it functions in colorectal cancer.

"What we've found is in colorectal cancer, in some scenarios, it may help a tumor to grow and move to other parts of the body," Khare told Columbia, Missouri, National Public Radio station KBIA.

The study shows that the Sprouty2 gene can promote a process called epithelial-mesenchymal transition in colorectal cancer, which can lead to the cancer spreading. In epithelial-mesenchymal transition, affected cells lose adhesion to other cells and can travel through the bloodstream, which can lead to cancer cells spreading. This process is also involved in natural functions such as wound healing.

The results indicate a role of SPRY2 in the progression and worsening of colorectal cancer. Suppression of Sprouty2 may inhibit epithelial-mesenchymal transition in colorectal cancer patients, say the researchers.

The results were published in a June 2016 issue of the journal Oncogene.

The study is a significant step in understanding metastasis in colorectal cancer. The researchers are now looking into whether there is a correlation between the activity of this gene and the life expectancy of patients with colorectal cancer. Future studies will help doctors understand what patient populations are at risk for colorectal cancer. This research could eventually lead to personalized treatments targeting specific genes in patients with the cancer.

Deaths from colorectal cancer are usually the result of tumor recurrence and cancer spreading to other organs. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer in the U.S. is 1 in 21 for men and 1 in 23 for women. VA diagnoses around 4,000 new cases of colorectal cancer in Veterans each year.


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