The protein, paxillin plays an important role in cell movement. What scientists are trying to determine is exactly how paxillin affects the movement of cancer cells away from a primary tumor, into the blood stream and on to colonize distant organs. It’s important to know because “If we can develop ways in which we can limit paxillin’s function, we may be able to block the process of metastasis,” says Christopher Turner, PhD, professor of cell and developmental biology.
Many of the drugs used to fight breast cancer tumors target microtubules, the proteins that makes up the cytoskeleton that helps cells maintain their shape and internal organization. These drugs create toxic side effects for patients.
“We found that the level of expression of paxillin in tumor cells may actually influence the microtubule cytoskeleton and, therefore, may influence how those drugs actually work in individual patients,” Turner says.
Nicholas Deakin, PhD, research assistant professor of cell and developmental biology, points out that the deaths of 95 percent of the 40,000 American women who die from breast cancer each year are linked to metastasis. “It’s not the tumor in the breast that really is the problem. It’s the ability of the cells to move away from there,” he explains. “If we can detect the tumors early, and if we can then treat them with a drug or know what drug to go with to stop their spread, then that’s going to greatly influence the survival of these patients.”
Turner and Deakin are among dozens of researchers who have received grants from the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund of CNY since 2002.