Brown U dean points to a possible suspect driving metastasis

Dr. Jack Elias

Dr. Jack Elias, dean of medicine and biological sciences at Brown University, has been studying the role of a protein called chitinase 3-like-1 (CHI3L1) in fibrosis and asthma for years. And now he says that new animal research indicates that this could also be a good target for cancer metastasis.

"We think everybody has chitinase 3-like-1 (CHI3L1) in them because it plays a major role in our ability to fight off infections," Elias, author of a new study that appears online in the journal Cancer Research, says in a statement. "But one of the things this paper shows is that inducing this molecule seems to be very important in the ability of tumors to spread."

Working with mouse models, Elias' team worked with an antibody and a small molecule to manipulate proteins that orchestrate CHI3L1, either hitting the gas on its activity or slamming on the brakes. And by inhibiting the protein semaphorin 7a--which regulates CHI3L1--they were able to slow metastasis in the lungs of mice.

Elias isn't hyping the results. Mouse studies are only an indicator that they might be pointed down a promising pathway, but plenty of researchers have been here before. Now he wants to do more work to see if they can further establish the concept, and then translate that work into humans. And he's building on earlier drug development work in fibrosis and asthma that could relate to cancer as well.

Notes the scientist: "We know what molecules are involved in the triggering of this. We don't know where they are and which of them are on the tumor and which are in the normal tissue around the tumor."

- here's the release