In a recent study titled “Role of Chitinase 3-like-1 and Semaphorin 7A in Pulmonary Melanoma Metastasis”, published in Cancer Research, a team of researchers from Brown and Yale University found that a protein named chitinase 3-like-1 (CHI3L1) plays a central role in the spread of malignant melanoma to the lungs.
The research team observed that blocking CHI3L1 slowed the development of melanoma and breast cancer metastasis into the lungs of mice.
“We think everybody has Chitinase 3-like-1 (CHI3L1) in them because it plays a major role in our ability to fight off infections,” study author Dr. Jack A. Elias, dean of medicine and biological sciences at Brown University said in a news release. “But one of the things this paper shows is that inducing this molecule seems to be very important in the ability of tumors to spread.”
Previous research had already showed that increased levels of this protein, named YKL-40 in humans, significantly correlated with a worse prognosis.
In this study, the researchers wanted to understand if CHI3L1 is only an indicator of disease progression or if it can actively contribute towards the progression of cancer.
As such, they used mouse models of melanoma and breast cancer and evaluated the degree of cancer metastasis in the lung after either decreasing or blocking the levels of CHI3L1.
They found that mice that did not have the protein had a slower progression of melanoma into the lungs than those who did. Furthermore, the team found that a protein named semaphorin 7a was the mechanistic driver behind this effect.
“We know what molecules are involved in the triggering of this,” he said. “We don’t know where they are and which of them are on the tumor and which are in the normal tissue around the tumor”, Dr. Elias said in the news release.
Future research enabling the strengthening of these findings could allow the prevention of cancer spread after cancer surgery. “If you treated them in this manner could it prevent or really delay the spread of the tumor and give the person a longer and better life?” said Dr. Elias. “That’s the reason why we are excited about extrapolating these studies from the mouse to man.”