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Novel gene promoting tumor metastasis points to new therapeutic options for aggressive cancer types

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Thursday 20 April 2017

Tumor metastasis, the spread of a cancer from one part of the body to another, is one of the key drivers of cancer mortality. Among cancers, pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive tumour types because it starts forming metastases early.

In a recent article in Nature, a group of German researchers identified a novel gene involved in pancreatic metastasis. The gene, ZEB1, plays an important role in key metastatic processes such as the cell motility, tumor cell invasion and finally, metastasis. ZEB1 is inactive in normal, fully developed cells but is re-activated in cancer cells.

Figure 1 - involvement of ZEB1 in Pancreatic metastasis (source: Euretos Knowledge Platform)

A key mechanism behind the progression from tumor initiation to metastasis is considered to be the partial activation of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Interestingly, however, a Nature publication from 2015 showed that two EMT associated genes, TWIST1 and SNAI1, have no impact on metastasisation, leading the research to conclude that EMT may not be involved at all in metastasis:

Figure 2 - Article questioning EMT involvement in metastasis (Euretos Knowledge Platform)

This latest finding now reconfirms the role of EMT in the case of the ZEB1 gene and highlights the fact that not all EMT genes play a role in tumor metastasis.

This conclusion is further supported by a high level analysis in the Euretos Knowledge Platform, which integrates over 175 public life sciences data sources. Using the Analytics application we identified 82 genes that are associated EMT and 288 associated with metastasis. Further analysis showed that only 20 EMT associated genes were also associated with metastasis, including ZEB1:

Figure 3 - EMT genes that are associated with metastasis (Euretos Knowledge Platform)

An initial analysis of these 20 genes show that many of these are involved in relevant physiological processes impacting metastasis including cell motility, proliferation, growth and targeting:


Figure 4 - Selected physiological processes of key EMT metastatic genes (Euretos Knowledge Platform)

These 20 genes therefore offer a good starting point for further detailed research and are available on request.

Read more news articles: Euretos News

About this series - The purpose of the Euretos Research Note series is to provide a data analytics perspective on recent life sciences publications. The series focuses on two types of questions: (1) Did the available data already point in the direction of a discovery? (2) What further research angles does the available data suggest?