Science

Scientists block growth signal in prostate cancer cells

They found that the bone protein provides a docking point for passing these cancer cells.

A protein in bone marrow acts like a “magnet” for spreading prostate cancer cells, say researchers.

Scientists used the discovery to disable prostate cancer in the laboratory, raising the prospect of new treatments for advanced forms of the disease.

Once it begins to spread, or metastasise, prostate cancer often gravitates to the bones for reasons that are not well understood.

The University of York team found that the bone protein provides a docking point for passing prostate cancer cells.

Laboratory
Scientists have found that bone protein provides a docking point for passing prostate cancer cells (Lynne Cameron/PA)

Once docked, a signal from the surface of a tumour cell to its nucleus causes it to start multiplying.

Lead scientist Professor Norman Maitland said: “Without this docking station, the ‘ship’, or cell, will just float around, not causing any further harm. The receptors on the ‘docking station’, or the protein in bone, act like a magnet for the receptors on the stem cells of the cancer and once it is ‘docked’, getting rid of the cancer becomes much harder.”

In laboratory experiments, the team succeeded in blocking the cancer-driving growth signal using a non-toxic drug already tested for the treatment of allergic asthma. As a result, cancer cells survived but their ability to multiply and spread further was disabled.

Immobilising prostate cancer in this way could slow down metastasis or increase the effectiveness of other treatments such as chemotherapy, said the scientists.

Prostate cancer.
The researchers succeeded in blocking the cancer-driving growth signal using a non-toxic drug (ElMiguelacho/Getty Images)

Prof Maitland said: “We know that this works in human cancer cells, but what we now need to find is the correct dosage of the drug in patients, and whether it will buy a man more time to fight his cancer or even stop the spread of cancer altogether.

“Clinical trials are some way off, but this is a positive and exciting step forward in tackling this disease and reducing the number of deaths.”

Each year, more than 46,000 men in the UK are diagnosed with prostate cancer and 11,000 die from the disease.

The new research is reported in the journal Oncogenesis.

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