Collagen type XII plays a key role in regulating the organisation of the tumour matrix, reveals a new study from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. A team of scientists led by Associate Professor Thomas Cox, Head of the Matrix and Metastasis lab, also discovered that high levels of collagen XII can trigger breast cancer cells to spread from the tumour to other parts of the body, a process known as metastasis.
The tumour microenvironment is the ecosystem that surrounds a tumour, one component of which is the extracellular matrix. Cancer cells constantly interact with the tumour microenvironment, which affects how a tumour grows. Collagen is an important part of this tumour microenvironment, but just how it influences tumours has not been understood.
“There’s still a lot we don’t know about the role of the extracellular matrix in cancer metastasis. Our study shows that collagen XII plays an important role in breast cancer progression and metastasis,” says senior author Associate Professor Thomas Cox.
“Imagine cancer cells as seeds, and the tumour microenvironment as the soil. By studying the soil — the extracellular matrix — we can begin to understand what makes some tumours more aggressive than others, and by extension, begin to develop new ways to treat cancer,” he says.
The research also suggests that measuring the level of collagen XII in a patient’s tumour biopsy could potentially be used as an additional screening tool to identify aggressive breast cancers with higher rates of metastasis, such as in the triple-negative type of breast cancer. Furthermore, collagen XII might be a possible target for future treatments.
The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.
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