Scientists in the UK are developing a new treatment that could halt the growth of tumours in patients with prostate cancer by targeting a key molecule that influences how tumours form new blood vessels. Matthew Stock reports
STORY: Scientists from several British universities are working on a new treatment that could inhibit the growth of tumours in patients with prostate cancer. The idea is to cut off the blood supply to tumours and basically starve them to death. They identified a key molecule that influences how tumours form new blood vessels. Called SRPK1, this molecule was found to be causing increased vessel formation in patients, resulting in tumour growth. Study co-author Dr Sebastian Oltean (pron. Ol-tee-an) from the University of Bristol said his team used a specific compound to halt the molecule's activity. The treatment has proven highly effective in lab tests on mice. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BRISTOL UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF PHYSIOLOGY AND PHARMACOLOGY INDEPENDENT RESEARCHER AND PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR, SEBASTIAN OLTEAN, SAYING: "When we went and did some mouse models of prostate cancer, and treated the mice with this molecule, we saw the tumours shrink, they stopped growing, and also the vessel formation in the tumours is disrupted." Oltean says that while current treatments to inhibit tumour growth in prostate cancer cases are effective, they come with a host of serious side effects. He says their treatment works on the molecular level which, researchers hope, will decrease the damage to healthy tissue surrounding the tumour. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BRISTOL UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF PHYSIOLOGY AND PHARMACOLOGY INDEPENDENT RESEARCHER AND PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR, SEBASTIAN OLTEAN, SAYING: "It's a targeted treatment, which means it's not toxic like chemotherapy or radiotherapy, what's available in the hospitals right now, so we're expecting much much less side effects. Also if indeed it proves in the end that it works in patients, it would form a completely new class of drugs, because it targets a special process in the cell that is called alternative splicing and there is no other drug on the market that targets this process." Dr Matthew Hobbs from Prostate Cancer UK hopes this new approach could eventually lead to drugs with fewer side effects. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROSTATE CANCER UK DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, MATTHEW HOBBS, SAYING: "What's really exciting about this work is that it's a completely different way of looking at the problem, so rather than preventing the cancer from growing by blocking testosterone, and androgens, it actually tries to stop the network of blood vessels that are needed to help that cancer grow." In Britain alone, about 300,000 men are living with prostate cancer, with one man dying on average every hour from the disease. While the research is still at a very early stage, the teams are now focused on adapting the drug for human use, with clinical trials expected in two to three years time.