British scientists have made a landmark discovery that could help slow or even stop the spread of prostate cancer to the bones.
Once prostate cancer has formed tumour outposts in bone marrow, the disease is usually considered incurable.
But scientists at York University have discovered why prostate cancer so often spreads to the bone – and how the process can be stopped.
They found that a protein in bone marrow acts like a ‘magnetic docking station’ for prostate cancer cells in the blood.
Prostate cancer kills more than 11,000 men a year in Britain – or one every 45 minutes. Once it has spread to other organs, 70 per cent die within five years
And they have also discovered that a non-toxic drug known only as AS1517499, previously tested for treating allergic asthma, appears to stop the cancer from growing once embedded in the bone.
The researchers now hope to test the drug on patients with advanced prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer kills more than 11,000 men a year in Britain – or one every 45 minutes. Once it has spread to other organs, 70 per cent die within five years.
The non-toxic drug known only as AS1517499, previously tested for treating allergic asthma, appears to stop the cancer from growing once embedded in the bone. Stock image
Professor Norman Maitland, chairman of molecular biology at York University, said circulating prostate cancer cells were like space ships searching for places to dock in the body to start a new colony.
‘Without this docking station, the “ship”, or cell, will just float around, not causing any further harm,’ he added.
Certain proteins in bone act like ‘magnetic docking stations for the receptors on the stem cells of the cancer’. Once ‘docked’, a signal is sent to the cancer cell’s nucleus which instructs it to start growing the cancer colony.
As a result, about 80 per cent of men with advanced prostate cancer suffer from tumours in the bone. These grow and eventually overcome the body, proving fatal.
Prof Maitland said clinical trials of AS1517499 were ‘some way off’ and that, when they did start, they would almost certainly involve men in the advanced stages of the illness.