All cells communicate by releasing chemicals and signals which are detected by ‘receptor’ proteins on the surface of cells. For cancer cells, this communication is essential for them to survive, grow and spread in the body, and so Professor Skerry believes preventing this communication could be a new way to treat prostate cancer.
RAMP3: a promising cancer drug target
Professor Skerry previously identified a receptor protein, called RAMP3, which is commonly found on prostate cancer cells, and helps them spread. Importantly, RAMP3 is not needed by normal tissues, so it could be a promising target for new drugs that would specifically kill cancer cells and avoid side effects.
In this project, Professor Skerry wanted to find out if blocking RAMP3 could affect the ability of prostate cancer cells to grow and spread. He wanted to test removing different amounts of RAMP3 in prostate cancer tumours in mice, to see if this affected how aggressive the prostate cancer was.
A way to stop prostate cancer cells in their tracks
The team began by removing RAMP3 from prostate cancer cells grown in the lab, and found that the cells were less able to grow and spread, and were also more sensitive to chemotherapy drugs.
Next, the researchers injected either normal prostate cancer cells or their cancer cells lacking RAMP3 into mice. They found that the mice with the highest levels of RAMP3 developed very aggressive disease, and within three weeks had tumours in their lungs, bones and liver. However, mice that had the lowest amounts of RAMP3 developed much less aggressive prostate cancer, with very little spreading to other parts of the body.
£5 million in funding to turn RAMP3 into a new cancer treatment
These are very promising results, that show reducing levels of RAMP3 can make prostate cancers much less aggressive and less likely to spread, making RAMP3 a worthwhile target to develop a drug against. Since the project finished, Professor Skerry received almost £5 million in funding to do just that, and search for a chemical that can be used to specifically inhibit RAMP3 in cancer cells.
Now, it looks like a potential RAMP3-inhibiting drug has been identified, and the team will focus on getting it ready to test in patients with cancer.