An international group of geneticists have discovered a new molecule that drives the spread of the most aggressive form of prostate cancer. This breakthrough signals new hope for sufferers of the deadly disease.
In the UK, more than 48,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year – it is the most common cancer found in men. The disease develops when cells in the prostate start to grow in an uncontrolled way, which is true of the most aggressive form: metastatic neuroendocrine prostate cancer (NEPC).
The research team, led by The Open University in collaboration with Vancouver Prostate Centre, the Weizmann Institute and the University of Surrey, found that a new ribonucleic acid (RNA) – a large, complex molecule that controls the function of many genes – known as LINC00261, is specifically present in NEPC.
The newly discovered RNA controls tumour formation and the spread of cancer cells. By isolating and targeting this unique biomarker, scientists were able to remove the molecule in test samples and stop the cancer from growing.
Using data gathered from 139 clinical samples and a large collection of patient-derived models, the team was able to identify RNAs that are specifically found in neuroendocrine prostate cancer, and subsequently discovered LINC00261.
To better understand how LINC00261 affects the growth and spread of cancer cells, the team isolated the molecule in test samples of cancer cells and manipulated the RNA, turning the biomarker off and on. They found that when the molecule was ‘turned off’ the cancer cells died and were not able to spread, and the opposite happened when the molecule was turned on in cells.
New prostate cancer treatment
Dr Francesco Crea, lead scientist on the study and senior lecturer in cancer genetics at The Open University, said:
“The new RNA, LINC00261, may represent an attractive therapeutic target against metastatic neuroendocrine prostate cancer, and could provide a novel route to inhibit disease-causing RNAs.”
Hardev Pandha, co-author of the study and Professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Surrey, adds:
“This work presents a ray of hope and may lead to a better understanding of the behaviour of prostate cancer cells – a dreadful disease that blights the lives of far too many men in the UK.”
Currently, the research team is in the process of developing a treatment for prostate cancer, using a new type of drug called antisense oligonucleotide (ASO), which is a synthetic DNA sequence that mirrors a target RNA molecule. When the drug enters the cell, it binds to the target RNA and prevents it from growing.
The research was funded by Cancer Research UK. For more on the findings, read the paper published in the Molecular Oncology journal.