Swiss scientists have found a potential new way to block metastasis, with promising results now demonstrated in mice. The researchers have found a “barrier” built by the Activin B protein and a receptor called ALK7, the combination of which prevents tumours from spreading through the body.

So far, the results have shown that the two agents working in tandem create a signalling pathway which makes cancer cells naturally kill themselves, preventing tumours from either forming or spreading. Should only one of the two agents be active, the cancer can suppress it and survive.

Activin B plays a role in a number of areas in the body, including growing cells and aiding the body’s immune response. ALK7 presence was found to signify a lower chance of relapse in human patients with various cancers. Additionally, higher levels of ALK7 in the body slowed metastasis, particularly in breast cancer.

Researcher Douglas Hanahan from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne noted that: “this study enforces the notion that apoptosis is an important barrier of tumorigenesis, and that its evasion by cancer cells is a key hallmark capability of cancer cells during malignancy and metastasis.”