- Protein identified which plays crucial role in the rapid growth of tumours
- Discovery raises hopes of test that deliver an early accurate diagnosis
- Could lead to more targeted treatment for those with worst cancers
Ben Spencer for the Daily Mail
A breakthrough in medical research may pave the way for a test that flags up the most aggressive forms of prostate cancer.
Scientists in the US have identified a protein which seems to play a crucial role in the rapid growth of tumours.
If the findings are confirmed, the discovery could lead to a test which differentiates men with aggressive prostate cancer from those with a less threatening form of the disease.
The discovery, published yesterday in the scientific journal Oncogene, raises hope of tests that deliver an accurate diagnosis from the outset.
Doctors have long called for better tests to define how aggressive prostate cancer is early in the path of the disease.
The results could lead to more targeted treatment for those with the worst cancers – and less treatment for men whose tumours are not dangerous.
Scientists in the US have identified a protein which seems to play a crucial role in the rapid growth of prostate cancer tumours, pictured under the microscope
Professor Renny Franceschi, who led the research at the University of Michigan, said the discovery of the new biomarker paves the way for a ‘warning light’ that signals how dangerous the cancer is.
It might also eventually lead to a treatment which stops tumours growing.
He said: ‘In the context of prostate cancer there’s a big interest in trying to find biomarkers to discriminate between aggressive and non-aggressive disease.’
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men, with 40,000 diagnosed in Britain every year.
But there is a big difference between patients, with some dying within weeks and others surviving their whole lives with few symptoms.
The slowest-growing prostate tumours can grow so slowly the carrier dies of natural causes before the cancer spreads.
An aggressive prostate tumour, on the other hand, may quickly spread if it is not surgically removed or destroyed.
DOGS CAN SNIFF OUT PROSTATE CANCER WITH 98% ACCURACY
Dogs can sniff out prostate cancer with 98 per cent reliability, a new study has shown.
The research, carried out in Milan, backs up tests carried out by the charity Medical Detection Dogs.
Its co-founder Dr Claire Guest said the charity’s research found a 93 per cent reliability rate when detecting both prostate and bladder cancer.
She hailed the new study, describing the findings as ‘spectacular’.
The latest research, by the Department of Urology at the Humanitas Clinical and Research Centre in Milan, involved two dogs sniffing the urine of 900 men – 360 with prostate cancer and 540 without.
Scientists found that dog one got it right in 98.7 per cent of cases, while for dog two this was 97.6 per cent .
They said the dogs are able to detect prostate cancer specific volatile organic compounds in the urine but said an important question remains of how a dog would find it in daily practice.
Current tests – called prostate-specific antigen or PSA tests – only identify whether a tumour is likely to be present in the prostate.
But they are so unreliable that they are not offered routinely, holding a high risk of ‘false positives’ that wrongly identify healthy men as having cancer.
Treatment for prostate cancer often leaves men with significant complications, such as impotence and incontinence.
The new breakthrough centres on the discovery of a protein which, when it combines naturally with phosphates in the body, seemed to activate genes that speed up the growth of tumours.
Professor Franceschi said: ‘If this biomarker does indeed control the growth of prostate cells, it’s a new signal that’s not been seen before and could provide a potential new drug target for prostate cancer.
‘It could also be a potential biomarker to discriminate between fast and slow growing tumours.’
He said that if further research proves positive, eventually it might lead to a test involving a simply biopsy when the patient first complains of symptoms.
The research team made the discovery by chance while they were studying the growth of bone formation.
They found that the proteins, called Runx2, triggered genes that affected bone cells.
But during their experiments they also found that the same protein also fuelled the growth and spread of prostate tumours.
Professor Franceschi said: ‘This is the first paper the lab has published on cancer.
‘We discovered this regulatory mechanism in bone cells, but subsequently found it was also operative in prostate cancer cells.’
The discovery, published yesterday in the scientific journal Oncogene, raises hope of tests that deliver an accurate diagnosis from the outset (file picture)
In tests on mice, they team found that stopping the protein from combining with phosphates slowed the rate of tumour growth.
They also examined 129 prostate cancer patients in Italy, and discovered an absence of the Runx2 protein in patients who had slow-growing or benign prostate tumours – indicating it is only closely associated with the more aggressive forms.
The discovery was last night welcomed by British cancer charities – although they emphasised that it may be some time until patients see the results.
Dr Alan Worsley, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘This early laboratory research in cancer cells suggests that activating a particular protein could help prostate cancer cells grow and spread to other parts of the body.
‘While the results showed a link between levels of this protein and more aggressive prostate cancer cells, it’s unclear how useful it might be in men so more research in patients is needed to find out whether this would be beneficial in the clinic.’
Share or comment on this article
Share what you think
No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts,
or debate this issue live on our message boards.
Who is this week’s top commenter?
Find out now