Bristol scientists target cancer spread

In collaboration with the Press Association

Researchers at a medical research firm affiliated to the University of Bristol say that they have identified a new method of fighting the spread of cancer.

The scientists looked at the natural life cycle of cells, one of the key biological processes linked to cancer growth. In particular they focused on a molecule known as protein kinase B (PKB) that is found in all cells.

Healthy cells die off once they have run their natural lives, through a process known as apoptosis. If this system breaks down, cells begin to multiply and cancer can develop.

PKB is involved in sending 'survival' signals that tell a cell not to die.

PKB is normally anchored within the interior of the cell, but when certain cancerous changes occur, PKB can travel to the cell's surface. It is then activated and sends out survival signals telling the cell not to die.

"There has been a lot of interest in targeting PKB as a way of preventing tumour growth," said lead-researcher Professor Jeremy Tavare of ProXara Biotechnology.

"Most of the interest so far has been in developing drugs that block the signal. However, such drugs are very non-specific and can have many adverse side effects."

As an alternative, the team is developing a targeted drug that specifically prevents PKB from reaching the cell's surface and becoming active.

At the moment, the research is still at the laboratory stage, but the researchers hope to develop their new drug into a treatment for lung cancer.

"We anticipate that a drug based on this approach may benefit a significant proportion of people with lung cancer," explains Professor Tavare.

"As well as developing the drug itself, we are also working on a way of identifying which individuals are most likely to respond to the drug."

The Wellcome Trust has recently provided the researchers with million under its Seeding Drug Discovery initiative to continue research and development.