Prostate cancer 'can be made to kill itself' by newly-found protein

Doctor discusses exam with patient

A drug that boosts levels of the protein, called FUS, could stop the disease from spreading around the body

Scientists have made a breakthrough in the battle against prostate cancer.

They have pinpointed a protein that stops cancerous cells from growing and even drives them to kill themselves.

A drug that boosts levels of the protein, called FUS, could stop the disease from spreading around the body, saving many of the 10,000 lives lost to the disease each year.

The research, at Imperial College London, could also help doctors more accurately distinguish the more common, slower-growing forms of the disease from the more aggressive, faster-growing types.

Such a test could save thousands of men from gruelling and unnecessary treatments.

Doctors currently use a variety of techniques, including blood tests, biopsies, microscopy and scans, to determine who are most at risk and how they should be treated.

But the results are not wholly reliable – meaning that many men are subjected to unnecessary surgery and radiotherapy, both of which carry a high risk of incontinence and impotence.

Now researchers at Imperial College have shown that FUS, which occurs naturally in cells, can stem the growth of prostate tumour cells in a dish – and trigger a series of reactions that leads to their death.

When they boosted the amount of FUS, more cells died, suggesting that a drug that boosts levels in patients could be of real benefit.

Dr Charlotte Bevan, the study’s senior author, said: ‘These findings suggest that FUS might be able to suppress tumour growth and stop it to spreading from other parts of the body where it can be deadly.

‘It’s early stages yet, but if further studies confirm these findings, then FUS might be a promising target for future therapies.

‘FUS slows the cancer cells right down when grown in controlled conditions. So ultimately what we hope is a cure will be somewhere down the line.’

FUS is also linked to the severity of the disease, with prostate cancer tending to be more severe in men with lower levels of the compound, the journal Cancer Research reports.

Researcher Greg Brooke described FUS as a ‘crucial link’ in the progression of the disease.

He added: The next step is to investigate whether FUS could be a useful test of how aggressive prostate cancer is. Then we might look for ways to boost FUS levels in patients to see if that would slow tumour growth or improve response to hormone therapy.

‘If FUS really is a tumour suppressor, it might also be involved in other cancers, such as breast cancer, which has significant similarities with prostate cancer.’

Dr Helen Rippon, of the Prostate Cancer Charity, which part-funded the study, said: ‘This provides us with an important clue.’

But she added: ‘It is important to remember that this is a laboratory study, looking at how prostate cancer cells respond in a lab rather than in the human body, meaning that it will still be some time before men affected by prostate cancer will see any direct benefit.’

Prostate cancer is the most common form of the disease among British men. Each year 36,000 men are diagnosed with the condition, which kills one man every hour.