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Lukas Harnisch


UEA Norwich


Research into how cancer spreads

What happened

At Big C, we pride ourselves on funding exciting new projects and giving promising researchers of tomorrow a chance to develop. Lukas Harnisch, one of this year’s students, has been looking into reducing cancer’s spread.

Lukas looked at the body’s barrier cells, known as epithelial cells. They block germs whilst allowing nutrients to pass. Protein strands called “tight junctions” connect cells together. Changes to tight junctions have been shown to allow cells to migrate, which has a major role in cancer spread.

An enzyme called matripase has been shown to regulate these tight junctions. As matripase can be regulated by drugs, it forms an interesting target for possible future cancer treatments. The aim of the project was to study the effect of inhibiting matripase on the barrier cells, testing how the tight junctions react and looking for things that interact with matripase.

It was found that inhibiting matripase slowed the recovery of the tight junctions. This means that matripase could be vital in preventing cancer spreading and becoming stage 3 or 4 cancer.

Projects like this are vital as they produce results that will be carried on to the next stage. Lukas says,

‘I was so pleased to be able to carry out this research. It’s a small but vital project that forms the basis for important research. Many larger charities would have overlooked it so it’s brilliant that Big C saw the worth in work like this.

Following this studentship, I have been successful in my application to do a PhD, which will help my own career and, with any luck, the development of new medicines and treatments. I have also been affected by cancer myself on a very personal level, I understand the huge impact cancer and other illnesses have on the family.’

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