New technique could halt the spread of cancer to bones

A leading biomedical scientist at the University of Hull has discovered a method to halting “rolling” prostate cancer cells, preventing bone destruction.

Dr Justin Sturge observed these cells “rolling like balls” over human bone surfaces where they often plant new tumours. By blocking the Endo 180 receptor, which can drive the cells’ abnormal movement, Dr Sturge and his team stopped this rolling of the prostate cancer cells, so that they couldn’t move any further.

This discovery could lead to new treatments for patients who have primary bone cancer or in preventing other cancers spreading to bones.

Dr Sturge, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological, Biomedical and Environmental Sciences, is leading research into a molecule called Endo180, a receptor on cancer cells which plays an important role in helping cancer to spread to other parts of the body, especially the bones.

Globally more than 1 million deaths each year from cancer occur after the cancer has spread to the bones, also known as metastasis.

These new findings have been published in the scientific journal Clinical & Experimental Metastasis, led by Dr Sturge and co-researchers from the University of Hull and Imperial College London.

After observing the cancer cells moving in a rounded fashion on human bone [see Video 1] rather than crawling along like they did on the other types of surface tested, the research team turned their attention to blocking Endo180.

The research team found that after ‘genetic silencing’ of the Endo180 receptor, the prostate cancer cells were stopped from rolling over the bone.

In a subsequent commentary published in The Journal of Pathology, Dr Sturge explains how blocking Endo180 with antibodies can prevent bone destruction in cancer patients who are at risk of metastasis or have developed primary bone tumours such as osteosarcoma, the most common primary bone cancer in adolescents.

Dr Sturge said: “Skeletal bone is an attractive site for secondary tumours to grow, and is also home to spontaneous primary cancers. Our research explains how cancer cells can thrive in this environment.

“Our discovery stops the cancer cells in its tracks. The cells became stuck to the bone, they couldn’t move anymore.

“There is now hope that these findings could lead to Endo180-based treatments to stop tumours growing in the bone, increasing the chances of extending the lives of thousands of patients.”

The results are the latest findings from Dr Sturge’s research into Endo180. Earlier this year Dr Sturge published two papers, in Molecular Cancer Research and The Journal of Pathology, which identified Endo180 as a monster molecule in prostate cancer. In this work he used three-dimensional models of human prostate cancer to uncover the cellular mechanics behind the deadly effects of Endo180. This seminal work has paved the way for new diagnostics and treatments to be designed for future clinical use.

Dr Sturge’s research on Endo180 has been funded by Prostate Cancer UK, Breast Cancer Now Worldwide Cancer Research, The Rosetrees Trust, The China Scholarship Council, The Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau and Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia.

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