This week, the journal Oncogene reported the results of a Prostate Cancer UK PhD studentship, which has opened up new leads in the search for targeted treatments for advanced prostate cancer.
The studentship, awarded to Athina Mavrou, was funded by the Mike Gooley Trailfinders Charity, and carried out in Professor David Bates’ lab at Nottingham University. Athina, working with a team of scientists, found that blocking the activity of a protein called SRPK1 could prevent prostate tumours growing in mice. These blockers work by preventing the growth of blood vessels into the tumour.
Solid tumours like prostate cancer need to develop a large and complicated network of blood vessels to deliver a constant supply of oxygen into the tumour. Without these vessels, the tumour wouldn’t have enough oxygen to survive.
Finding out how to disrupt the cancer’s ability to grow new blood vessels has been one of the holy grails for researchers. The main protein responsible for making new blood vessels grow is called VEGFA. But there are two forms of this protein, and while one form causes blood vessels to grow, the other prevents it.
The researchers showed that SRPK1 is found at high levels in human prostate cancers. We know that the SRPK1 protein causes VEGFA to switch between the form that prevents blood vessel growth to the form that promotes it. The team reasoned that blocking SRPK1 in prostate cancers would prevent VEGFA making this switch. This in turn should prevent the cancer from growing, because there would be fewer blood vessels to deliver oxygen.
The results of this research back this theory up, but these are very early stage results. It’ll be a long and uncertain journey before men with advanced prostate cancer might see the benefit in their treatment plans. But the exciting news is that this research has opened up some new leads in the search for targeted treatments for those men in desperate need.