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Cancer Breakthrough at UVA

University of Virginia School of Medicine

Scientists at the University of Virginia have made what could be an important breakthrough in treating cancer.  They’ve discovered a substance released by lung cancer cells that enables them to spread – beginning their deadly march to other parts of the body.  Biochemist Marty Mayo says finding that substance, called Activin A, could lead to a simple blood test for certain cancers.

“The hypothesis is that Activin would be present in patients with solid tumors like breast, perhaps colon but definitely lung cancer, so you would draw blood and measure Activin A in their bloodstream, and it would be high levels.”  

It may also be possible to find a drug that would disable Activin A and prevent cancers from spreading. Mayo and his colleagues were able to do that in the lab.

Marty W. Mayo, UVA Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics

“A spreading process is what cancer patients die of.  They don’t die of the primary cancer.  They die of the cancer that spreads to other organs, and so if we can make an impact there, it’s a good thing.”

The substance Mayo and his team used to block Activin A was not ideal, but he believes better ones will be found and says a company in California – Atara Biotherapeutics -- is already testing something in patients with ovarian and other solid tumors.  Details from UVA have been published online by the journal Cancer Research.

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