Research at Oxford's Cancer Centre may increase survival from cancer by targeting tumours' food sensors to restrict their growth.
Oxford University researchers have identified a protein that is used by tumours to detect food supplies. Initial studies at Oxford's CRUK Cancer Centre show that targeting this protein could restrict cancerous cells’ ability to grow.
A team from the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics led by Dr Deborah Goberdhan worked with oncologist and researcher Professor Adrian Harris to understand the effects of this protein called PAT4.
Dr Goberdhan explained: ‘We found that aggressive cancer cells manufacture more PAT4, which enables them to make better use of available nutrients than the cells around them – including healthy tissue.’
Cancer cells often have restricted access to the body’s nutrient-rich blood supply. The ability to sense and acquire nutrients is therefore vital for a cancer to grow.
Dr Goberdhan’s and Professor Harris’s groups have collaborated to develop an antibody that could be used to highlight PAT4 in human tissue samples. This was then used to study anonymous tumour samples taken from patients with colorectal cancer, a common form of the disease.
The results were compared to the known outcomes for the patients. Those who had higher levels of PAT4 in their tumours did less well and were more likely to relapse, than those with lower levels.
The researchers then looked at what happened when PAT4 levels were reduced. They showed that by reducing PAT4 levels, cancerous tumours grew more slowly.
Dr Goberdhan said: ‘These findings support each other. Not only do higher levels of PAT4 mean a worse outcome, but lowering levels improves the situation. This means that we have identified a mechanism which cancer cells prefer to use and which we might be able to target as part of a combination treatment.’
For more information visit: http://www.cancercentre.ox.ac.uk . The research, funded by Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council was first published in the science journal Oncogene.