Tiny genetic snippets called microRNAs may promote metastasis

Biologists know quite a bit about the steps that turn a normal cell into a cancerous one. Their understanding of metastasis, on the other hand, is somewhat more hazy. Now a short stretch of genetic material has been implicated in the spread of breast cancer, according to a study in the Oct. 11 Nature.

Molecular biologist Li Ma of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, in Cambridge, Mass., has identified a type of microRNA—a tiny genetic molecule—that can coax breast cancer cells to spread to other tissues. MicroRNAs regulate the expression of genes by controlling the larger RNA molecules that help to make proteins.

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