A molecular marker that helps to determine if a prostate cancer is aggressive and likely to return, called NAALADL2, may also be used to direct therapies against the cancer, according to research presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NRCI) Cancer Conference that recently took place in Liverpool.
Scientists at the University College London had previously reported that the NAALADL2 molecule was highly expressed at the surface of prostate cancer cells compared to healthy cells, and that prostate cancer patients with unusually high levels of this marker on their tumors were at least twice as likely to experience cancer recurrence after surgery than other patients. NAALADL2 levels, they reported, appeared to correlate with cancer aggressiveness.
Now the same team found that the molecule may be used to target cancer therapies at tumor sites.
“Using antibodies mounted with a toxic payload, we can exploit the fact that aggressive prostate cancer cells have more NAALADL2,” Dr. Hayley Luxton, lead researcher with the university’s Molecular Diagnostics and Therapeutics Laboratory, said in a press release.
Researchers linked the drug saporin, which induces cell death by preventing protein synthesis, to an antibody targeting the NAALADL2 protein. Working in a lab cell culture, they found that the antibody-conjugated drug killed cancer cells.
“The next step is to further develop this for use in patients, which we hope can be done in a relatively short timeframe,” Luxton said.
“This research was attractive to us as something that could potentially distinguish those so-called ‘pussy cat’ cancers from the ‘tigers.’ We’re very excited by the potential shown and look forward to further findings,” said Louise de Winter, CEO of The Urology Foundation.
According to the Cancer Research UK, 47,300 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in the U.K. each year.
“When it comes to aggressiveness, prostate cancer can either be slow-growing or much faster to grow and spread. And there is an urgent need to find better treatments for the more aggressive version of the disease,” said Dr. Chris Parker, chair of the Prostate Cancer Clinical Studies Group at the NCRI (National Cancer Research Institute). “Interestingly, this study shows that the very marker that indicates a prostate tumour may be more aggressive, could also be the key to its downfall.”