Molecular breakthrough could halt the spread of prostate cancer

A cancer cell
10 Nov 2014 12:04:54.453
PA 286/14

Research involving Nottingham academics has shown that a signal protein that plays a crucial role in controlling the growth of blood vessels could be used to suppress tumours in prostate cancer.

The discovery by Dr Sebastian Oltean at Bristol University and Nottingham’s David Bates, Professor of Oncology in The University of Nottingham’s Cancer Biology Unit and academics at UWE Bristol, could be used to develop new drugs to improve the long-term management and prognosis for prostate cancer patients.

Professor Bates said: “This work opens up a new avenue for drug development for prostate cancer. This is a new target, and we believe we will be able to make drugs that hit this target in those patients that can benefit, with prostate cancer, and potentially other cancers too.”
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Starving the tumour

The research, published in the academic cancer journal Oncogene, centres on the role in the body of the signal protein vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). VEGF comes in two forms — proangiogenic, which encourages the growth or blood vessels, and anti-angiogenic, which inhibits vascular growth.

The researchers have discovered that in prostate cancer the cancer cells produce proangiogenic VEGF to form the new blood vessels that are needed to carry vital nutrients and oxygen to tumours.

As a result, the academics have developed a compound that can switch the production of VEGF from the proangiogenic form to the anti-angiogenic form to block the formation of new blood vessels and cause the tumours to starve themselves, preventing the growth and spread of the cancer.

The researchers studied patients with prostate cancer and found that the expression of levels of proangiogenic VEGF varied across the group. They focused their work on patients who had a high expression of the protein and used cancer cells from bone metastases to study the mechanism of the VEGF in tumour formation.

They were able to demonstrate that a new chemical they called SPHINX could be used successfully to switch the forms of VEGF in mice in the laboratory and prevent tumour growth with very few side effects when given three times weekly by injections.

Having shown proof of concept, the next step will be for the Biotech company Exonate, a spin-out drug development company from The University of Nottingham, to develop a compound that recreates the effects in humans and to develop a drug that could be injected or taken orally in tablet form.

If successful, the new drug could be used as a long-term maintenance therapy to keep a patient’s prostate cancer in check and to prevent its growth and further spread to other organs in the body.

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

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain’ (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also the most popular university in the UK among graduate employers, in the top 10 for student experience according to the Times Higher Education and one of the world’s greenest universities

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Serine arginine protein kinase-1 (SRPK1) inhibition as a potential novel targeted therapeutic strategy in prostate cancer by Athina Mavrou, Karen Brakspear, Maryam Hamdollah-Zadeh, Gopinath Damodaran, Roya Babaei-Jadidi, Jon Oxley, David A Gillatt, Michael R Ladomery, Steven J Harper, David O Bates and Sebastian Oltean in Oncogene.

About Prostate Cancer UK
Prostate Cancer UK fights to help more men survive prostate cancer and enjoy a better quality of life. We support men and provide vital information. We find answers by funding research into causes and treatments. And we lead change, raising the profile of the disease and improving care. We believe that men deserve better.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in men in the UK. Over 40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. Every hour one man dies from prostate cancer. One in four Black men will develop prostate cancer at some point in their lives.
Anyone with concerns about prostate cancer can contact Prostate Cancer UK's Specialist Nurses in confidence on 0800 074 8383 or via the online Live chat, instant messaging service: The Specialist Nurse phone service is free to landlines and open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday with late opening until 8pm on Wednesdays.

About the BBSRC
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Its aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £484M (2013-2014), it support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people it funds are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Its investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

Story credits

More information is available from Professor David Bates in the School of Medicine, University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 823 1135,

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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