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Vanderbilt Research Could Predict Cancer's Spread - John Dunn

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NASHVILLE, Tenn - Groundbreaking research right here in Nashville may help doctors predict when cancer is about to spread. Vanderbilt  has teamed up with doctors in Canada to make what could be a life-saving discovery.

Scientists like Andrew Zijlstra, Ph.D., have spent countless hours peering through a microscope, and now he may have helped make a breakthrough discovery. "What I am very excited about is we are talking about the behavior of cancer," says Zijlstra.
Vanderbilt researchers have been studying prostate cancer, and what causes some cases to spread into the bones or lungs. Now they believe they have found the answer. "This study really identifies when the cell acquires the ability to become mobile," says Zijlstra.

The protein is called CD151, and researchers says it changes form just before a cancer spreads. Many prostate cancer patients decide to undergo a possibly life-changing surgery, but this discovery may allow doctors to suggest a different treatment. "We want to treat patients, but at the same time we want to make sure that they can live a high quality of life, and surgery does not lead to a high quality of life," says Zijlstra.

Although this study was specifically related to prostate cancer, it could have applications for all types of cancer, giving doctors the ability to essentially see the future. Early work on other types of tumors shows the same protein may act as a trigger to cancer progression. "Our current effort is to see how broadly applicable this can be, and where we can really intervene," says Zijlstra.

Andrew Zijlstra and other researchers from Canada are publishing their findings in "Cancer Research." They now hope to develop a clinical test to identify the protein change. If successful, it could give oncologists new information that saves lives. "The important thing is that you recognize those patients before it has actually happened, because once it has happened it's too late to intervene," says Zijlstra.

There is a lot of excitement about this discovery. Doctors may soon be able to tell you very early on if you will develop an aggressive form of cancer or if it will remain benign.

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