Prostate cancer could be 'halted' by injections

Drugs known as Sphinx compounds may inhibit the activity of a molecule that promotes tumour growth

Scientists have discovered a new treatment that could halt the progression of prostate cancer.

Researchers at the Universities of Bristol, Nottingham and the University of the West of England (UWE) have identified a compound that inhibits the activity of a molecule which helps cancer cells to grow and multiply.

The SRPK1 (serine arginine protein kinase-1) molecule plays a key role in angiogenesis - the process through which tumours are able to develop blood vessels in order to obtain the nutrients they need to grow.

Angiogenesis is regulated by the signal protein VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor). This protein comes in two forms, which can either activate or inhibit the growth of blood vessels.

The form that VEGF takes depends on how the gene is controlled by a cellular process called "alternative splicing".

Dr Sebastian Oltean, the study’s co-author from the University of Bristol’s School of Physiology and Pharmacology, said: "We reasoned that inhibition of SRPK1 activity could stop cancer progression.

"Indeed, we show in this paper that if we decrease SRPK1 levels in prostate cancer cells, or in tumours grafted into mice, we are able to switch VEGF splicing and therefore inhibit tumour vasculature and growth."

When the scientists analysed samples of human prostate cancer they found that SRPK1 increases as the cancer gets more aggressive. 

However, in experiments carried out on mice they discovered that the tumours decreased in size when drugs known as Sphinx compounds were injected three times a week.

Professor David Bates, co-author from the University of Nottingham’s Division of Cancer and Stem Cells, said: "Our results point to a novel way of treating prostate cancer patients and may have wider implications to be used in several types of cancers."

This study was funded by Prostate Cancer UK, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Richard Bright VEGF Research Trust.

Dr Matthew Hobbs, deputy director of research at Prostate Cancer UK, said: "There’s no denying that there are too few treatment options for the 40,000 men that face a diagnosis of prostate cancer every year in the UK - especially for those with advanced disease. Prostate cancer continues to kill over 10,000 men annually and there is an urgent need for new treatments if we are to significantly reduce this figure.

"Although it’s early days, each finding like this represents a crucial block in building up our understanding of what can slow down and stop the progression of prostate cancer. This understanding will give us the foundations needed to develop new targeted treatments for those men in desperate need."

The findings are published in the journal Oncogene.

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