When tumour cells lose their grip

Zellzusammenhalt von Darmzellen.
Image: Uni-Klinikum Erlangen

Collaborative project between scientists in Erlangen and Zurich receives 900,000 euros of funding

Metastases are the most common cause of death among cancer patients. How tumour cells spread from the primary tumour to other organs depends, among other things, on how the tumour cells are attached to the surrounding tissue. A collaborative project in which scientists are researching how tumour cells can ‘lose their grip’ is now set to receive 900,000 euros of funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Swiss National Science Foundation. The project is led by Prof. Dr. Michael Stürzl, Professorship for Molecular and Experimental Surgery at the Department of Surgery (Director: Prof. Dr. Robert Grützmann) at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, and Prof. Dr. Michael Scharl, Head of Research at the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at University Hospital Zurich.

Integrins are protein molecules located on the surface of cells that join these cells to others and the matrix that surrounds them. During previous research, Prof. Scharl and Prof. Stürzl discovered that integrin-beta 6, which is firmly attached to the surface of intestinal cells in normal tissue, is present in significantly higher concentrations in the blood of patients with metastasised colorectal carcinoma. In the current research project, the scientists now hope to find out if the separation of the integrin from the tumour cells is an active signal for triggering metastasis. Or is this a type of secondary reaction during which the protein is separated from the cells during tissue transformation when the tumour grows, causing the tumour cells to detach and spread from the tumour?

The financial support is being provided as part of bilateral project funding, the aim of which is to promote interaction in research between Germany, Austria and Switzerland (lead agency process). Prof. Stürzl is particularly pleased that the project gained the funding during the highly-competitive selection process. ‘This collaborative project is particularly appealing due to the fact that researchers and the institutions involved exchange their ideas regularly,’ he explains. ‘If the project is successful, it could lead to new approaches – on the one hand to determine the progress of the disease more precisely, and to define new goals for the treatment of colon cancer on the other.’

Further information:

Prof. Dr. Michael Stürzl
Phone: +49 9131 8539520