Tumour "Achilles heel" targeted by research

In collaboration with the Press Association

US scientists who have identified a flaw in tumours' defences against therapy hope it could lead to new treatments for cancer.

Tumours are capable of throwing up a protective barrier against the radiation and chemotherapy treatments designed to kill them.

The team now believe that they have discovered a way to block the formation of this barrier, leaving tumours significantly more vulnerable to treatment.

The group, led by Dr William Cance of the Shands Medical Centre has found that an enzyme called focal adhesion kinase (FAK) is produced at very high levels in human tumours.

"Our work has shown this makes the tumours more likely to survive as they spread throughout the body and grow." Dr Cance told the University of Florida News. "It also makes them more resistant to our attempts to kill them.?

The enzyme is ?very intimately associated with tumour cell survival," he added.

When FAK is released from a tumour cell, it interacts with a protein called VEGFR-3, which is known to be involved in tumour spread.

Dr Cance's research team have shown that if FAK is prevented from binding to VEGFR-3, tumour cells die.

"We think it's one of the Achilles' heels for tumour cells and you can disrupt it in a number of different ways," said Dr Cance.

"FAK is a critical molecule, and in the future different ways of targeting either the enzyme itself or targeting the binding between these various proteins will have a major impact on cancer, I believe."