Scientists have moved a step closer to understanding what happens when cells receive a faulty signal that is known to be a cause of cancer.
Many different types of signal control normal cell development but when some of these signals are ‘mis-activated’ they can result in the formation of tumours.
Now, a team of researchers at The University of Manchester has discovered that the way cells communicate with each other is often more complicated than previously thought.
The breakthrough should help in the fight against cancer as understanding how these signals work in healthy cells means scientists can better investigate what happens when the signal goes wrong.
Dr Martin Baron, who led the research, said the discovery could take scientists down a new route in their battle against the disease.
Dr Baron’s research, published in the science journal Current Biology, has been concerned with signals that are picked up by a receptor on the surface of the cell known as ‘Notch’, which has been linked to a form of leukaemia called T-ALL.
The Notch receptor, of which there are four types in humans, is unusual in that once it has picked up a signal, it splits into two and part of it actually becomes the signal on its journey to the cell nucleus.
What Dr Baron has discovered is that the journey taken by the Notch signal to the nucleus is not as straightforward as scientists first believed.
“Our studies have shown how the signal should work normally and how it can be mis-activated,” explained Dr Baron.
“If the signal is mis-activated it can cause cancer, so it is important that we know why it can go wrong and find out how to stop it.
“Once we know the process of how the wrong signal is sent and the cell is mis-activated, we can look at the possibility of manipulating the signal or switching it off completely.”