AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Metastasis

Unlocking Cancer’s Secrets: The Power of CRISPR

Is there a cure for cancer? 

MIT researchers have developed a novel technique using prime editing, a variant of CRISPR genome-editing, to screen thousands of mutations in cancer genes, such as the tumor suppressor gene p53, more efficiently. This method allows for the identification of harmful mutations previously overlooked, shedding light on their role in tumor development and response to treatment. Unlike previous approaches, which introduced artificial versions of mutant genes, this technique edits the genome directly, providing more accurate insights into mutation effects.

Breast cancer cell (2)

The researchers demonstrated the effectiveness of their approach by examining over 1,000 mutations in the p53 gene found in cancer patients, revealing previously unknown harmful mutations. By enabling the generation of various mutations seen in cancer patients and testing their response to therapy, this technique holds promise for precision medicine, potentially revolutionizing cancer treatment strategies. With further exploration into other cancer-linked genes, the researchers aim to uncover new therapeutic targets and eventually personalize cancer therapies based on individual genetic makeup, marking a significant advancement in cancer research and treatment.

In AP Bio’s Unit 6 on Cell Cycle and Mendelian Genetics, we briefly touched upon the topic of cancer, but I found myself captivated and eager to delve further into its complexities and implications. In learning about cancer, I discovered that its development stems from cells breaking free of normal controls, leading to unregulated division and tumor formation. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells disregard signals that regulate division, perpetuating their growth indefinitely. Furthermore, cancer spreads through a process called metastasis, where tumors manipulate blood vessels to obtain nutrients and travel to distant parts of the body, contributing significantly to cancer-related deaths. Treatments target the diverse population of cancer cells, aiming to eliminate them; however, the high mutation rate often leads to drug resistance and tumor recurrence.

Growing up, I heard stories of my family’s experiences with cancer, especially the loss of my mother’s birth father to a rare liver cancer when she was just a child. His passing at such a young age left an indelible mark on our family. Unfortunately, his story isn’t the only one. Cancer has touched other members of my family too, reminding me of the importance of understanding this disease. Instead of feeling weighed down by sadness, I’ve chosen to embrace curiosity and become proactive in learning about cancer. It’s my way of honoring their memories and empowering myself to make a difference. As I prepare for college this Fall, I’ve been reflecting on my career aspirations. My goal is to make a meaningful and purposeful impact in the field of medicine, so I’ve decided to pursue a career in nursing. This path resonates with me as it aligns with my passion for helping others and allows me to realize my professional ambitions.

The innovative technique developed by MIT researchers, along with my personal journey, has inspired me to join the fight against cancer. With a newfound understanding and determination, I eagerly look forward to pursuing a nursing career, driven by the belief that every effort contributes to better treatments and outcomes for those impacted by cancer.What’s your take on CRISPR genome-editing? Share your thoughts or any interesting facts you know!

How Cancer Cells Spread Using Nerve-Cell tricks

In this article, Cancer cells use nerve-cell tricks to spread from one organ to the next, it explores how cancer cells are able to reproduce and spread into the bloodstream and other organs as well. Specifically in Breast and Lung Cancer, the cells are able to create signaling pathways that neurons use, in order to metastasis, or reproduce. I am really interested in going into the medical field so I decided to choose an article that relates to current research. Cancer research relates back to the basics of cells, which is such a crucial foundation to learning biology. I found it interesting how this article spoke about cell reproduction and organic compounds as well. It is neat to learn about current research after learning the fundamentals of biology throughout this unit. 

Sohail Tavazoie, a scientist, found that cells located in the inner blood vessels can tell the cancer cells to metastasize in the tumor. Tumors are able to attach to the body’s nutrient supply and oxygen. I wanted to find out a little bit more about metastasis so I read an article to learn more about it and better my understanding of the process. Metastasis is when cancer spreads to another part of the body from where it started originally. Metastases, the plural of metastasis form when some of the cancer breaks off from the cell and enters the bloodstream. These metastases carry fluid and can form tumors in other locations in the body. Bernardo Tavora, who is a research associate, used a modified version of TRAP, which was developed in Nathaniel Heinz’s lab. This helps to pinpoint subtle differences between cells that are similar and have produced similar proteins. To further develop my knowledge and research of TRAP, I read this articleIn this article I learned that TRAP stands for Translating Ribosome Affinity Purification. TRAP has been used to study the aging of neurons to further research diseases such as Huntington’s Disease. In order to use this technique, scientists needed to understand translation. When DNA turns into mRNA in the nucleus it is transported to the cytoplasm or the ER. This is then recognized by ribosomes and then the ribosomes turn the mRNA into proteins. 

Cancer cells replicating

Tavora and his colleagues discovered that the signal is Slit2, which is a protein that is made by neurons. Slit2 helps to guide nerve-cell extensions when they go through different parts of the brain. Researchers found that cancer cells use a process to make blood-vessel cells make and release Slit2. This dose helps the cancer cells to start spreading throughout the body, making the cancer worse. The cells activate DNA so that it makes RNA, and then it acts like a signal, which triggers them to move into the bloodstream and other organs. This protein along with other molecules could help with diagnostics. Doctors could identify cancers that have left the primary tumor before it is too late. This could also help develop drugs to stop metastasis in cancer cells. 

This topic raketes a lot to what we have learned in biology so far this year. Cancer is made up of cells which can multiply and spread to other parts of the body through reproduction, or metastasis in this case. We learned about Slit2 which is the protein made by neurons, and helps to guide nerve-cell extensions. The cancer cells can use this protein to “trick” and then spread throughout the body by acting like a signal. We also learned that proteins are transported from cell to cell by being released from the plasma membrane. Proteins are crucial for many functions in the body such as speeding up chemical reactions, responding to stimuli, etx. 

This article helped me to understand how biology works in research and how the fundamentals are so pertinent to understanding complex research. 


Study Shows Link Between Enzyme and Spread of Breast Cancer


 “40,000 women in America will die of breast cancer in 2014.” This is a truly terrifying projection. Breast Cancer is an extremely deadly, and extremely prevalent cancer that affects the lives of millions each year. In my personal experience, I have many friends and family members that have battled against this cancer. So many are affected, and there is still no concrete cure. There is no cure, however, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have identified an enzyme that is closely related to the metastasis of breast cancer cells. This is great news, for it suggests the possibility of further research using this finding to end breast cancer for good. Xuefeng Wu, a lead scientist involved with this research, has stated that the team has been able to “target breast cancer metastasis through a pathway regulated by an enzyme“. This enzyme is called UBC13 and it regulates the activity of a protein called p38.

This p38 protein, when not in use, prevents metastasis. By identifying the enzyme that prevents the use of p38, researchers have come one step closer to preventing the spread of breast cancer in the body, and therefore defeating it. With the use of a lentivirus injected into the mammary tissues of mice, the scientists were able to suppress the functions of both UBC13 and protein p38. The mice grew primary tumors, as was expected, however the primary tumors did not metastasize and spread breast cancer cells throughout the bodies, which means the cancer was stopped from spreading throughout the body. This prohibition of the cancer cells to spread is a major breakthrough in breast cancer research and will without a doubt contribute greatly to the ending of breast cancer.

Directed evolution: Bioengineered decoy protein may stop cancer from spreading


Researchers Jennifer Cochran and Amato Giaccia from Stanford University have recently made a breakthrough in cancer research. The Bioengineers have developed a synthetic form of the protein Axls that binds to the protein Gas6 in our blood. Cancerous cells have Axls proteins lining the cell membrane awaiting connections with Gas6 proteins. Once the two join together, the cancerous cells break away from the central cancer mass and spread through the body during a process known as Metastasis. However, the new synthetic Axls protein binds to Gas6 in the blood and inhibits Metastasis from ever beginning. This stops the original Axls cells on the cancer from receiving the chemical signals to break away and form new cancerous nodules.

The scientists conducted preliminary testing on lab mice with aggressive forms of ovarian and breast cancer. The Bioengineers found that, “Mice in the breast cancer treatment group had 78 percent fewer metastatic nodules than untreated mice. Mice with ovarian cancer had a 90 percent reduction in metastatic nodules when treated with the engineered decoy protein.” Scientists currently treat cancers with chemotherapy and radiation, however these early studies show that the synthetic protein Axls could prove to be a safe and effective alternative.

I believe that this type of Bioengineering, specifically directed evolution, holds the key to discovering cures for many of earth’s deadly diseases. Despite the recent breakthrough researchers have made at Stanford, it will still be years before synthetic Axls is approved for clinical studies and then for use in the medical field.

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