Public Release: 

VCU Massey Cancer Center study shows enzyme linked to spread of breast cancer cells

Virginia Commonwealth University

RICHMOND, Va. (Aug. 19, 2005) - Researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center have found a new signaling component that influences movement of human breast cancer cells toward epidermal growth factor.

In the August issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, researchers showed that epidermal growth factor, which plays a critical role in breast cancer progression, stimulates sphingosine kinases - SphK1 and SphK2 - a family of enzymes that forms the potent lipid mediator, sphingosine-1-phosphate, and that breast cancer cells are unable to move without these kinases.

"If we understood how tumor cells spread or metastasize, we would be able to design better tools to help treat cancers," said lead author Sarah Spiegel, Ph.D., chair and professor in the VCU Department of Biochemistry and co-leader of the Massey Cancer Center Cell Signaling program.

Spiegel, who is internationally recognized for her pioneering work on new lipid mediators that regulate cell growth and cell death, and her colleagues, first discovered the role of sphingosine-1-phosphate in cell growth regulation nearly a decade ago. While researchers know that SphK1 is stimulated by multiple growth factors, less is known about how SphK2 is regulated. Spiegel and her team are continuing this work to better understand the functions of these enzymes.

"Our work suggests that sphingosine kinases are potential new targets in cancer therapy," she said.


This research was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute.

About VCU's Massey Cancer Center
VCU's Massey Cancer Center, one of 61 National Cancer Institute-designated research institutions, is Virginia Commonwealth University's focal point for basic and clinical cancer research, education, prevention and cancer health care delivery. Since 1975, Massey Cancer Center has served Virginia and the nation as an internationally recognized center of excellence in research, education and patient care. Its 170 member doctors and researchers are dedicated to improving the quality of human life be developing effective means to prevent, control and ultimately to cure cancer. Visit Massey online at

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