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How cancer starts … The MAPK pathway

Trinidad Express / Many scientists believe that cancer cells grow because of wrong messages that are sent to them through what is known as a signalling pathway (route). You may be asking “what on earth is MAPK?” Well, MAPK stands for Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase. Mitogen, pronounced “my-toe-jen”, is a chemical substance that encourages cells in our bodies to begin multiplying. For those who remember biology class, the division process is called Mitosis. Protein Kinases are regulators of what happens to cells, controlling things like their growth and when they should die. It is a very complex but orderly process that requires the right signal to start the chain of events creating what is referred to as a Signal Pathway. The signal in the MAPK pathway is sent to the following players, Ras, Raf, MEK and ERK. Do not worry too much about the names. The signal goes to the four of them in a kind of relay fashion with one activating the other, ultimately leading to proper cell division and normal cell growth. Signal If the wrong signal is sent or the signal gets distorted somehow, the message that is delivered ends up being incorrect and our cells then do not behave the way they are supposed to. In this case, Ras, Raf, MEK and ERK do not respond correctly. This can lead to uncontrolled growth of cells (as is the case with cancers) that just do not want to die. Cells generally have a life span and it is important they die after a certain length of time so new ones can develop. A red blood cell, for example, has a life span of about 120 days. Researchers believe that incorrect signalling to Ras, Raf, MEK and ERK is what causes some gene mutations and the development of many cancers. Another problem with these types of cancers is they are hard to manage because they can be very resistant to chemotherapy. The process I have just described is obviously a bit more complex but this is generally the messaging system that our body uses to multiply and grow. Pharmaceutical companies spend billions trying to make these research breakthroughs. At Roche, for example, a major pharmaceutical player, scientists are diligently working at finding ways to better understand this signalling pathway that leads to the growth of cancers. They are also working on ways to control how the players Ras, Raf, MEK and ERD respond to wrong signals. Maybe by controlling the response, they can also stop the growth of cancers caused by these wrong signals. In the case of prostate cancer, there is an androgen (male hormone) signalling pathway and the progression and growth of prostate cancer (PC) has been shown to be dependent on androgens. The standard treatment for advanced PC is androgen deprivation (depriving prostate cancer of its food testosterone) therapy. Initially, androgen deprivation therapy slows down the growth of the cancer, but it ultimately fails and leads to the emergence of what is known as castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC). Currently, no truly effective treatment for CRPC has been discovered. With more research into the various signalling pathways, scientists hope to be able to completely arrest the growth of prostate cancer cells as well as speed up the death of existing ones. Dennis Webster is an oncology trained nurse and cancer consultant with over 20 years’ healthcare experience. He has a keen interest in Men’s Health with a focus on prostate disease, prostate cancer and prostate cancer risk assessment. This information is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace consultation with healthcare professionals. Consult a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your individual medical situation. Blog address: helpatrini.wordpress.com Email: [email protected]

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