A team of Danish researchers have discovered that by blocking a specific enzyme, it is possible to check the spread of cancer in the body. This finding may be the first step towards preventing deaths due to cancer spreading to other parts of the body. The discovery may also help reduce the amount of chemotherapy used.
The discovery, which was recently published in the prestigious International Journal of Cancer, was made by a research team from the Finsen Laboratory at Copenhagen University Hospital – Rigshospitalet and the Institute of Molecular Biology at the University of Copenhagen.
“What is special about the enzyme – urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA) – is that the cancer needs the enzyme in order to spread throughout the body, but the body does not need the enzyme to function normally. This means that we should be able to block the enzyme and thereby check the spread of the cancer without causing the strong side effects for the patients that we see with other forms of therapy today,” says Morten Johnsen, Institute of Molecular Biology, University of Copenhagen.
“When women discover a lump in their breast, it can be removed. But if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, then it can become life-threatening. So we’ve come a long way towards being able to limit the spread of the cancer in the body,” says Kasper Almholt, PhD, Finsen Laboratory.
At K.A.S. Herlev Hospital, doctors are very pleased with the discovery. “The research looks very promising. If the clinical trials also show that it is possible to halt the spread of the tumour, then the research team has found the key to stopping the spread of cancer in the body, which is the cause of most of the deaths among cancer patients today. This is a huge advance in cancer research,” says Torben Skovsgaard, Chief Hospital Physician, Department of Oncology, K.A.S. Herlev Hospital.
The research findings, which are based on experiments on genetically modified mice, show that the spread of breast cancer in mice that do not have the enzyme is reduced to 1/7. The findings also show that the mice do not suffer in any way from not having the enzyme, i.e. they do not experience any side effects. The next step is to develop a medication that works on mice. Only then will testing the medication on humans be considered.
More than 33,000 men and women are diagnosed with cancer every year. With the discovery of this enzyme, the researchers hope to be able to develop in the course of a few years a medication that can prevent the spread of cancer and, thus, reduce the number of deaths among cancer patients.