Scientists have identified an important protein, produced naturally inside cells, that appears to suppress the growth of prostate cancer cells in the laboratory.
The findings offer promising leads for research towards new treatments.
In the new study, scientists at Imperial College London found that a protein called FUS inhibits the growth of prostate cancer cells in the laboratory, and activates pathways that lead to cell suicide.
The researchers also looked for the FUS protein in samples from prostate cancer patients. They found that in patients with high levels of FUS, the cancer was less aggressive and was less likely to spread to the bone. Higher levels of FUS also correlated with longer survival. The results suggest that FUS might be a useful marker that can give doctors an indication of how aggressive a tumour will be.
"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," said Dr Charlotte Bevan, senior author of the study, from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London.
Prostate cancer depends on male hormones to progress as these hormones stimulate the cancer cells to divide, enabling the tumour to grow. Treatments that reduce hormone levels or stop them from working are initially effective, but eventually the tumour stops responding to this treatment and becomes more aggressive.
Dr Bevan and her team began by exposing prostate cancer cells to male hormones and looking at how the levels of different proteins changed. They discovered that the hormones made the cells produce less of the FUS protein, and examined further whether FUS might influence cell growth by inserting extra copies of the gene for FUS into cells grown in culture. They found that making the cells produce more FUS led to a reduction in the number of cancer cells in the dish.
The findings have been published in the journal Cancer Research.