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Joan Massagué’s team discovers why malignant lung- and breast-cancer cells spread to brain

The study published in the journal Cell opens up the possibility of curbing metastasis

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06.03.2014

The team led by Catalan scientist Joan Massagué has discovered why cancerous cells from lung and breast cancer metastasize in the brain. The results of the study carried out at the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York have been published in the scientific journal Cell.

Massagué’s study identifies the key role of plasmin, an enzyme with anticoagulant effects that protects the brain in two ways: preventing invasive tumor cells from adhering to blood vessels (and thus being able to develop tumors) and by causing them to self-destruct. However, when a cancerous cell can overcome the effects of plasmin, it joins with a specific molecule (L1CAM) that allows it to grow and spread to the brain. This molecule is now being considered as a possible therapeutic target to curb metastasis: if it could be blocked, invasive cells wouldn’t be able to create tumors in the brain.

Joan Massagué has studied how cancerous cells spread for the past 10 years. In Catalonia, he leads a research group on metastasis at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), which he helped found in 2006 alongside current director Joan J. Guinovart and where he currently serves as deputy director and member of the scientific advisory board. In New York, he leads a team of more than 900 researchers at the Sloan-Kettering Institute, where he was also named director in November 2013.

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Scientist Joan Massagué has worked at Memorial Sloan Kettering for the past twenty years. - Photo: © MSKCC

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