Research sets out to stop cancer spreading

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A DRUG commonly-used to treat breast cancer could have far wider benefits offering a new way of preventing tumours spreading through the body, according researchers in Yorkshire.

The drug geldanamycin attacks a protein linked with the spread of breast cancer.

But a study at Leeds University has found it also degrades a different protein that triggers blood vessel growth which experts say a key challenge in the battle against cancer.

Sreenivasan Ponnambalam, reader in human disease biology at the university, said: “This is potentially very significant because tumours secrete substances that stimulate blood vessels to develop around them, forming networks that supply nutrients and provide pathways for spread around the body.

“This is one of the big problems in cancer - how can we stop the tumour growing and spreading through these blood vessel networks?”

He added: “Geldanamycin and chemical derivatives have been under intensive study in the laboratory and in clinical trials for the past 20 years.

“The cost to the NHS or patients could be relatively low compared to the expensive existing anti-cancer drugs, which are still under patent.”

A two-year laboratory study of the drug by experts at Leeds and University College London was funded by The Wellcome Trust.

In a separate study, researchers from the university say they plan to investigate how childhood brain tumours spread in a new three-year project funded by the charity Yorkshire Cancer Research.

Researcher Julia Cockle has been awarded the charity’s clinical research training fellowship enabling her to study how aggressive childhood brain tumours, known as high-grade gliomas, infiltrate normal brain tissue, and test a therapy which is being developed for the potential treatment of adult gliomas.

High-grade gliomas account for 15-20 per cent of all central nervous system tumours in children and despite treatment around 70-90 per cent of patients die within two years of diagnosis.

Dr Cockle said: “Very little is known about the migration of cells in these cancers and this is an important feature of this disease as it allows tumour cells to escape surgical removal.”

Research already carried out at the university has identified a potential therapy for adult gliomas using drugs that target a protein called GSK-3 which stop cancer cells spreading.

Experts are examining if this can lead to a more effective treatment for adults but Dr Cockle will investigate if it can work in paediatric gliomas, which have distinct differences.