Cartilage protein may contribute to the development of breast cancer

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Research from Lund University in Sweden has shown that the protein COMP (Cartilage Oligomeric Matrix Protein) can also be found in breast cancer tumors in patients with a poor prognosis.

COMP is a protein that so far has mainly been studied in cartilage tissue, where it helps development of a normal structure of the tissue. COMP is also used as an indicator of cartilage damage in joint diseases.

"We did not expect to find COMP in connection with breast cancer, and we were also surprised by the strong effect it had on the development of breast cancer in mice," said Emelie Englund, PhD, Doctor of Medical Science at the Department of Translational Medicine at Lund University, in a statement.

Published in the American journal  Oncogenethe results are based on a clinical study of breast tissue from more than 600 women with breast cancer. Various amounts of COMP were found in both the tumors and the surrounding tissue, but never in healthy breast tissue. Women with high levels of COMP experienced increased metastasis, less time before a relapse, and increased mortality.

Following the study, the research group continued with studies on the molecular mechanisms that may explain the effect COMP has on breast cancer development. The studies, including one on mice, showed that COMP not only contributed to a more rapid growth of the primary tumor, but also to formation of metastases. COMP made the cancer cells more resistant to natural cell death, as well as affected cell metabolism, making the breast environment less favorable to healthy cells.

According to a  university press release, the research group is now initiating advanced studies on COMP and the molecular processes that take place during cell metabolism as well as conducting studies on other changed cellular processes linked to COMP and tumor formation in the breast. Preliminary discoveries indicate that the protein may be significant in terms of the development of prostate cancer as well.