Scientists have found a way to prevent cancerous tumors in the prostate from spreading, effectively switching off the disease. Researchers from Bristol and Nottingham universities found that a single molecule plays a crucial role in the forming of new blood vessels, and the spread of tumors could be halted with a mere injection.

Prostate cancer could be switched off with an injection which prevents further tumour growth Photo: Alamy

A neoplasm (commonly known as a tumor) is an abnormal growth of tissue. Tumors need a constant flow of blood to survive and grow – so if we could somehow prevent the blood from flowing to tumors, we could prevent their growth, and even destroy them. Scientists also found that a single molecule (SRPK1). When scientists injected mice three times a week with a substance to prevent the SRPK1 molecule from working, the tumors’ spread halted.

“We reasoned that inhibition of SRPK1 activity could stop cancer progression,” said Dr Sebastian Oltean, the study’s co-author from the University of Bristol’s School of Physiology and Pharmacology. Indeed, we show in this paper that if we decrease SRPK1 levels in prostate cancer cells we are able to inhibit tumour vasculature and growth.”

SRPK1 also plays a key role in angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is the physiological process through which new blood vessels form from pre-existing vessels; it’s also the process through which tumors are able to form blood vessels and obtain the nutrients for their growth. By monitoring SRPK1 levels, researchers found that the levels increase when the cancer becomes more aggressive, and they were then able to figure out the connection between the molecule and angiogenesis.

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Prostate cancer is one of the most dangerous types of cancers out there, especially for older men. About 99% of cases occur in those over the age of 50. In the UK alone, 40,000 people are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. It is also the most common type of cancer in men in the United States, with 186,000 new cases in 2008.

To make results even more interesting, because all cancerous tumors rely on a constant supply of blood, the method could also be applied in other cancers. The study authors also think the same approach could be used to treat age-related macular degeneration, the most common form of blindness. Professor David Bates, co-author from the University of Nottingham’s Division of Cancer and Stem Cells, said:

“Our results point to a novel way of treating prostate cancer patients and may have wider implications to be used in several types of cancers.”

Now, Biotech company Exonate, a spin-out drug development company from the University of Nottingham, aims to develop SRPK1 inhibitors as treatments for diseases with abnormal vessel development – including cancers. Dr Matthew Hobbs, Deputy Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK, said:

“There’s no denying that there are too few treatment options for the 40,000 men that face a diagnosis of prostate cancer every year in the UK – especially for those with advanced disease. Prostate cancer continues to kill over 10,000 men annually and there is an urgent need for new treatments if we are to significantly reduce this figure. Although it’s early days, each finding like this represents a crucial block in building up our understanding of what can slow down and stop the progression of prostate cancer. This understanding will give us the foundations needed to develop new targeted treatments for those men in desperate need.”

Journal Reference: Serine–arginine protein kinase 1 (SRPK1) inhibition as a potential novel targeted therapeutic strategy in prostate cancer, A. Mavrou et al., Oncogene, 10 Nov 2014, doi: 10.1038/onc.2014.360