Scientists in Israel have uncovered a way to prevent cancer cells from entering the bloodstream and proliferating elsewhere in the body, helping reduce the likelihood of secondary tumors developing. The results of the peer-reviewed research from the team at Bar-Ilan University were shared in the medical journal Oncogene published by Nature.
The scientists produced a peptide, a string of amino acids considered the “building blocks” of proteins. The peptide was found to halt cancer cells from spreading to the blood, preventing them from circulating throughout the body. Ultimately, the team discovered that the peptide prevented metastasis in mice. In other words, it stopped cells from spreading, which could potentially drive secondary cancer in other parts of the body.
While medication does not yet exist, the team out of Israel hopes to produce the world’s first drug to stop secondary cancer caused by tumors. According to the researchers, the identified solution was extremely effective in rodent test subjects.
Solid tumor cells can often develop invadopodia – foot-like structures that attach to cells, allowing them to penetrate tissue and helping cancer cells move into the bloodstream. Invadopodia, however, require activation, and the peptide developed by the Israeli team helps prevent this activation from occurring.
“We believe that this can prevent the activation of the invadopodia and therefore inhibit metastasis. I expect that it could be used in addition to chemotherapy or other treatments that kill cancer cells,” says study co-author Prof. Jordan Chill.
The study concluded that mice with breast cancer that received the peptide were a minimum of 90% less likely to experience the development of secondary tumors compared to the rodents who did not receive the treatment.
While the study focused on breast cancer for the testing, the team suspects the effectiveness will translate to all solid tumors.
The risk of breast cancer is significantly higher among women who are obese, due to raised levels of estrogen and insulin. The public health crisis of obesity is especially pressing in DFW, as The Dallas Express has previously reported.
While chemotherapy can kill cancer cells in large numbers, ultimately, some cancerous cells remain and can still become active. According to previous research, roughly 12% of breast cancer patients will go on to develop metastatic disease. Of this group, only 26% are expected to survive the following five years.
“Our advance is very exciting, as today there are no drugs in production that prevent metastasis, [or] in other words exist especially to stop cancer from spreading,” says Dr. Hava Gil-Henn, co-author of the study.
“Most drugs are focused on shrinking tumors once they develop. We are taking a preventative approach, which could save many from a second illness and save many lives,” according to Gil-Henn.
Prof. Chill says the next step is to produce the peptide in a drug that can accurately target the correct location in the body with an appropriate dose.
“So far we have the arrowhead of the missile; now we need to develop the whole missile,” he said.