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Transcript of the video on the post Between a ROCK and a hard place: how changing the surrounding tissue helps tumours to grow

Most people are aware these days that one way you can detect cancers early is by feeling tissue, looking for lumps. And what these lumps are is a core of cancer surrounded by dense stiff tissue. This dense stiff tissue isn’t just there having a passive effect, it promotes the cancer itself.  So there’s been a lot of interest recently in how the dense, stiff tissue promotes the cancer.

One of the things it does is activates a protein called ROCK. And we wanted to find out what happens when you activate ROCK – how does the tissue stiffness activating ROCK do something to promote cancer? So we built a system where we could selectively turn on ROCK and see what the consequences were.

What we found was that skin sections in mice went from very thin to very thick, and at the same time they went from being quite pliable to being very stiff. And that association with being flexible and pliable to being stiff was associated with and increase in a protein called collagen.  Collagen is a major player in tissue stiffness, and what we saw was a vast increase in the amount of collagen, right from the surface of the skin to much deeper than it’s usually seen

These observations may help in the future because it opens up a whole new way of attacking these types of solid cancer by going after these types of tissue stiffness.

The next step for our research is to identify how the activation of ROCK in cancer cells leads to tissue stiffness, because there’s still a bit of a mystery as to what that connection might be. And that might throw up even more drug targets for treatment of certain cancers. And I think on a more practical level one other big step that we’ll have to take is translating our research in mouse systems into the clinical setting to see if there’s direct applicability to human patients.