New research finds ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ protein key to advanced prostate cancer

Scientists funded by The Prostate Cancer Charity have taken critical steps towards understanding advanced prostate cancer with the unexpected discovery of a key protein which encourages the disease to form in the bones, according to research published today (Friday) online in The Journal of Pathology.

The research carried out at Imperial College London, focussed on the role of a protein, ENDO180 - already present in bones - to understand how it reacts when prostate cancer cells are present.

Although ENDO180 normally helps keep bone healthy, the researchers discovered that when cancerous cells escape from a tumour in the prostate gland and interact with cells in the bone, the protein - which is present in both types of cell - is directed to damage the bone instead.

Lead researcher, Dr Justin Sturge, explains - "Before this study, the role that ENDO180 plays in the development of advanced prostate cancer that has begun to spread to the bones was unclear. Now we know that ENDO180 helps healthy bone to stay that way, but when in the presence of cancer cells the protein is directed to damage the bone, which allows the tumour to take hold and grow. The discovery of this 'Jekyll and Hyde' behaviour reveals ENDO180 as one of the elusive targets that we have long been searching for to help the development of new treatments that can stop prostate cancer entering and growing in the bone."

As part of the research, the team also uncovered that a molecule - TGFβ1 - is involved in controlling the ENDO180 protein. It was found that when cancerous cells were introduced, they hijacked a signal from the molecule to the protein and this loss of control is the reason why ENDO180 was able to change its behaviour.

Further research will now seek to develop new treatments focussed on the link between ENDO180 and TGFβ1 that could be used to slow down the progress of advanced prostate cancer that has spread to the bone.

Owen Sharp, Chief Executive of The Prostate Cancer Charity, added: "This new research has heralded some important discoveries which could offer new hope to men living with the advanced stages of prostate cancer. Currently, when a man's prostate cancer begins to escape beyond the prostate and spreads to the bone, there are very few treatment options available that can help to stop the disease in its tracks. We hope that as research into this area continues, new treatments targeting ENDO180 will be developed, which will allow us to slow down the progression of advanced disease and help more men, for whom time is limited, to live longer."