Scientists have discovered a method of treating prostate cancer after finding a protein that is able to suppress growth as the cancer cells spread.
Researchers found that the protein, called FUS, inhibits growth in cancerous cells in lab conditions as well as activating pathways that lead to cell suicide.
Prostate cancer is the most prevalent cancer among men in the UK, with some 37,500 being diagnosed each year. While the disease is usually slow moving, it can sometimes be rather more aggressive, risking spreading to areas such as bone which can in turn often lead to fatalities.
It appears that when FUS protein is present in patients in high levels, the cancer is often less aggressive, and there are strong links its presence and longer survival by patients.
According to the researchers FUS could be used as a marker to give an indication of how aggressive a tumour maybe, providing a useful early warning system.
"At the moment, there's no way to say whether a prostate tumour will kill you or be fairly harmless," said Dr Charlotte Bevan, senior author of the study, from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London.
"Current hormonal therapies only work for a limited time, and chemotherapy is often ineffective against prostate cancer, so there's a real need for new treatments.”
"These findings suggest that FUS might be able to suppress tumour growth and stop it from spreading to other parts of the body where it can be deadly. It's early stages yet but if further studies confirm these findings, then FUS might be a promising target for future therapies."
A treatment that has been used to only little effect in the past has been to reduce hormone levels as the cancer cells depend on male hormones to divide, and therefore grow and spread.
However treatment is usually successful for only a relatively small amount of time, before the cancer cells begin to fight back just as aggressively.
As the hormones make the cells produce less of the FUS protein, the scientists experimented with inserting the protein into the cells.
They found that when the cells were producing more FUS there was a reduction in the number cancer cells left in the dish.
Greg Brooke, from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London said: "Our study suggests that FUS is a crucial link that connects male hormones with cell division. The next step is to investigate whether FUS could be a useful test of how aggressive prostate cancer is."
"Then we might look for ways to boost FUS levels in patients to see if that would slow tumour growth or improve response to hormone therapy.
"If FUS really is a tumour suppressor, it might also be involved in other cancers, such as breast cancer, which has significant similarities with prostate cancer."
The findings are to be published in full in tomorrow’s Cancer Research journal.