Dr. Ningling Kang, head of the Tumor Microenvironment and Metastasis lab at The Hormel Institute UMN, published a discovery describing how a particular protein, diaphanous homolog 1 (Diaph1), turns normal liver cells into cancer-promoting cells.

Cancer that originates from the colon, pancreas, or breast can spread into the liver. This process is called metastasis. In the liver, cancer cells communicate with the cells that normally live in the liver, cells called hepatic stellate cells. The cancer cells can transform the hepatic stellate cells into metastasis-promoting myofibroblasts. These myofibroblasts make the liver a more welcoming place for metastatic cancer.

The newly published study by Dr. Kang and her lab reveals that a protein called diaphanous homolog 1 (Diaph1) promotes the transformation of hepatic stellate cells into myofibroblasts by regulating the function of TGFβ receptor 2 and TGFβ signaling of hepatic stellate cells.

For their next step, Dr. Kang and her lab will test if an inhibitor targeting Diaph1 is effective at preventing and suppressing liver metastasis of colorectal cancer in models, and hopefully, in cancer patients in the future. Metastatic cancers can be much more difficult to treat than cancers that have not spread to other parts of the body. This is why research like Dr. Kang’s is so important, to find new ideas for how to treat metastatic cancers.

Another of Dr. Kang’s papers, “p300 Acetyltransferase Is a Cytoplasm-to-Nucleus Shuttle for SMAD2/3 and TAZ Nuclear Transport in Transforming Growth Factor β-Stimulated Hepatic Stellate Cells”, published in Hepatology, was just named the top downloaded paper of 2018-2019, making it one of the most widely read papers in the high impact journal.