Inflammation is a normal bodily process that helps ward off disease and protect against infections. Following an injury, inflammation can help the body to recover. But if inflammation is chronic and persistent, this could lead to cancer, including breast cancer. Researchers at Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University published a new study that sheds light on this process.
The article, “Allergen Induced Pulmonary Inflammation Enhances Mammary Tumor Growth and Metastasis: Role of CH13L1,” appeared in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. The study focused on a biomarker of cancer known as“chitinase-3-like-1” or “CHI3L1.” Biomarkers refer to biological indicators that are different (such as increased) in a disease state compared to a non-diseased state. CHI3L1 is found in inflamed tissue, causing increased metastasis and faster cancer growth in that tissue. Metastasis refers to the growth of cancer at a new site in the body, distant from the original cancer site and is responsible for about 90 percent of all breast cancer deaths.
“Important findings from our research show how pre-existing inflammation may be one of the factors that accelerates metastasis to the inflamed site,” remarked Vijaya L. Iragavarapu-Charyulu, Ph.D., the principal investigator of the study and associate professor of biomedical science in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine. “This study may serve as a starting point for future research on how other inflammatory diseases may predispose patients for increased metastasis.”
The researchers compared two groups of mice, one of which was genetically modified so it could not make CHI3L1 (known as a knock-out mouse). The scientists caused an experimental form of asthma in mice that also had experimentally-induced breast cancer. Following four weeks, they measured lower inflammation in the mice lacking CHI3L1. Tumor growth also slowed down in knock out mice when compared to control animals. Moreover, there were less metastasis to the lungs in knock-out mice.
“In this study, we found that CH13L1 was an important inflammatory protein that promoted tumor growth and metastasis, providing the necessary ‘soil’ or the proper environment for the ‘seeds,’ that is the circulating breast tumor cells,” said Iragavarapu-Charyulu. “We are encouraged by the results of our study and hopeful that it will help us to better develop targeted therapeutics to treat cancer.”
The work could provide the foundation for a new category of breast cancer treatments that specifically target CH13L1 and reduce inflammation. It might also help the development of preventative treatments for people at risk.