There is a need to better understand the processes and pathways underlying metastasis. In a new study, scientists at Baylor College of Medicine took a closer look at the molecular pathways metastatic cancer cells use and identified four cancer subtypes according to the main genes expressed. Their findings reveal potential vulnerabilities of each subtype that have relevant implications for therapy.

The scientists reported their findings in an article titled, “Pan-cancer molecular subtypes of metastasis reveal distinct and evolving transcriptional programs,” published in Cell Reports Medicine.

“We analyzed molecular data from the public domain collectively representing 38 studies and more than 3,000 patients and 4,000 tumors,” said lead author Chad Creighton, PhD, professor of medicine and co-director of cancer bioinformatics at the Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor. “Our pan-cancer analysis looked to identify molecular pathways that are common to many different cancers, regardless of tumor origin.”

Creighton and his team worked with data obtained from patient-derived xenografts (PDX) cancer models.

“The nice thing with the PDX model is that mouse cells are different enough that they cannot be confused with human cells and, therefore, they are not going to contribute to the cancer profile,” Creighton said.

By analyzing the data of the PDX models, the team was able to define four cancer molecular subtypes in the metastasis-like PDX samples.

“When comparing a primary tumor with the metastatic tumor derived from it, we found that, in most cases, the primary and the metastatic tumors were not of the same subtype,” Creighton said. “This has important implications for therapy as it suggests that primary and metastatic tumors may not be treated in the same way. The findings provide valuable insights for the development of personalized treatments for metastatic cancer.”

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