Sugar-coated proteins: a bitter cargo used by cancer cells to take hold, grow and spread

Cells can communicate with nearby cells by releasing small packages called exosomes that contain a mixture of fat, sugar and protein molecules. Cancer cells produce different exosomes to normal cells, and these may trigger changes to the surrounding cells in order to promote disease progression. This project aims to identify new exosomal molecules released by prostate cancer cells, in particular sugar-coated proteins called heparin sulphate proteoglycans found on the surface of these exosomes. They will try to find out whether the amount of these proteins is linked with the stage of the disease, and if they may be used as an indicator of the aggressiveness of the cancer.

It is currently unclear why some men have slow growing, non-aggressive tumours while others have a more aggressive form of prostate cancer which requires treatment. If successful, this would allow treatments to be targeted to patients with aggressive disease while avoiding unnecessary overtreatment of men with slow-growing tumours.

Progress Update (Year 2 of 5)

Dr Webber and colleagues have identified markers that are common to prostate cancer exosomes. While there are many markers present, it appears that that a specific few control the environment around the tumour affecting its aggressiveness.

They have been working on a potential test to detect these markers in exosomes released into urine and blood. Initial testing has been successful, as they can discriminate between samples from men with prostate cancer and healthy men. The test can distinguish men with high Gleason score prostate cancer, who are at high-risk of aggressive disease, from those with low Gleason score, who may not need radical treatment.

Grant information 

Institution - Cardiff University
Researcher - Dr Jason Webber
Award - £679,601.00