Protein suppresses prostate cancer growth in lab tests

In collaboration with Adfero

UK scientists have shown that a natural protein that occurs inside cells can suppress the growth of prostate cancer cells in the laboratory.

A research team at Imperial College London found that the protein, called FUS, switches on a chain of events that can cause cancer cells to self-destruct.

Prostate cancer cells are known to be fuelled by male hormones, which help the cancer to grow. The researchers found that cells exposed to male hormones produced less FUS. This suggests that the hormones are helping the cancer cells to escape the effects of FUS, allowing them to carry on growing.

When the researchers manipulated the cancer cells so that they produced more FUS, more of the cells died.

Further research revealed that patients whose prostate cancer cells had high levels of FUS tended to have less aggressive tumours, and that their cancer was less likely to spread to their bones. They also tended to live for longer.

The early findings, which are published in the journal Cancer Research, suggest that it could one day be possible to target prostate cancer by boosting the protective effects of FUS. The researchers also think that FUS levels in a man's prostate cancer cells could potentially be used to predict if his disease is likely to be aggressive.

At present doctors have no way of telling whether a prostate tumour is likely to spread rapidly or be relatively harmless, meaning that some men are treated for cancers that may never cause them any problems. And although most men are given drugs to block the hormones that fuel the disease, the cancer can become resistant to these treatments.

Senior author Dr Charlotte Bevan, from the department of surgery and cancer at Imperial College London, said: "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."

First author Greg Brooke suggested that FUS could be a "crucial link" connecting male hormones with cancer cell growth.

He revealed: "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."

Nell Barrie, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "Understanding the inner workings of cancer cells is an important part of cancer research, and this study should help us to understand more about how prostate cancers grow. It could also shed light on why some prostate cancers are more aggressive than others, but the research is at a very early stage so it's too soon to know if it could lead to new treatments."

References

Brooke, G., Culley, R., Dart, D., Mann, D., Gaughan, L., McCracken, S., Robson, C., Spencer-Dene, B., Gamble, S., Powell, S., Wait, R., Waxman, J., Walker, M., & Bevan, C. (2010). FUS/TLS Is a Novel Mediator of Androgen-Dependent Cell-Cycle Progression and Prostate Cancer Growth Cancer Research, 71 (3), 914-924 DOI: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-10-0874