Irish scientists develop cancer-blocking protein

April 4, 2005

Brussels, 01 Apr 2005

A team of researchers at Ireland's Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) has made a major breakthrough in breast cancer research by creating a novel protein that blocks the growth of tumours.

The scientists developed a recombinant protein that blocks the Insulin-like growth factor, IGF1, known to stimulate cancer cells. The treatment, which has already been tested on mice, has shown to increase survival rate by 30 per cent.

'It has been shown in a pre-clinical model that the treatment can inhibit breast tumour growth, increase survival by 30 per cent and reduce secondary growths in bones,' says Judith Harmey, the lead researcher in the project. The secondary growth in bone is what kills the majority of people.'

The majority of breast cancer patients get their primary tumour successfully treated by surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. However, as Dr Harmey explains, in many patients, secondary tumours develop a number of years later and it is these that ultimately kill the patient. These secondary tumours are usually resistant to treatment and in the case of bone secondaries, cause a lot of pain and bone damage.

The six-year research project, funded by the National Cancer Registry of Ireland, discovered that the genetically engineered protein effectively starves the tumour by killing the blood vessels in the growth, thereby stopping its supply of oxygen and nutrients. This approach is a powerful way of treating cancers, and is considerably less intrusive, toxic and more specific than chemotherapy.

'This approach would be what is called a targeted approach, which tends away from using chemotherapy as it kills normal cells as well as tumour cells. The targeted one hits the tumour only,' stated Dr Harmey.

The RCSI researchers anticipate that the protein will be of value in treating both breast and prostate cancer in the future.

'We are absolutely delighted, it [the treatment] has worked better than ever expected,' concluded Dr Harmey. 'Possibly in the future it will be used, but it is some way down the line, we have to make it in pharmaceutical form and check for toxicity.'

Dr Harmey and her colleagues believe it will be another three to four years before the research can be used on breast cancer patients.

Related item:
Irish scientists find drug that kills cancer cells
29 March 2005

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities
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