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Metastasis, or the spread of cancer around the body, is responsible for up to 90 per cent of all cancer deaths. In a new study on mice it has been demonstrated that altering a gene can reduce the chance of metastasis in the lungs by 75 per cent.

During the study, published in Nature, researchers created 810 pairs of genetically modified mice. The animals were given skin cancer, and the researchers counted the number of tumours that formed in the lungs.

They then identified 23 sections of DNA that made the spread of cancer more likely. They found that most of them were involved in regulating the immune system.

The team at the Sanger Institute in Cambridge found that by targeting one gene — called Spns2 — there was a 75 per cent reduction in metastasis.

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