Shutting down an enzyme can slow the spread of cancer in mice, scientists in Israel report. The finding suggests that further study of this enzyme, called heparanase, might lead to a treatment for cancer patients.
Normally, heparanase facilitates cell migration in the body. This enables immune cells, for example, to travel to sites of infection. To provide this service, heparanase cleaves a carbohydrate called heparan sulfate, one of the components of tough organic sheets located throughout the body.
These sheets, called basement membranes, typically serve as scaffolding for cells making up an organ. If those cells become cancerous, the membrane provides an added benefit: It keeps the tumor cells in place.
Unfortunately, excess heparanase can weaken the membrane and permit metastasis, the spread of malignant cells to other organs.
Scientists have been building a case against heparanase for years. They've noted that tumor cells often contain excess heparanase