Scientists from the University of Liverpool and Nanjing Medical School in China have made a significant breakthrough in the battle against breast cancer. They have identified a possible way to block cancer-produced proteins responsible for metastasis, the process of cancer spread to other parts of the body, which often leads to patient fatalities.
“Metastasis is a major challenge in treating common cancers, as chemotherapy can cause severe harm. Our work aimed to identify a specific and important target to attack, without toxic side effects,” explained Prof. Philip Rudland, Emeritus Professor in the University of Liverpool’s Department of Biochemistry.
The research team focused on specific proteins involved in the metastatic process, distinct from those related to primary tumor growth. Among them, the protein ‘S100A4’ emerged as a prime target for chemical inhibitors of metastasis. “This is an exciting breakthrough in our research,” said Dr. Gemma Nixon, Senior Lecturer in Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Liverpool.
Using model systems of cells from the highly metastatic and incurable hormone receptor-free breast cancer, researchers discovered a novel compound that specifically blocks the interaction of S100A4 with its cellular target.
They further synthesized a simpler chemical, linked to a warhead that stimulates the cell’s normal protein degrading machinery. The newly developed compound effectively inhibits metastasis at extremely low doses, representing a significant advancement over the previous unarmed inhibitor, with minimal toxic side effects.
“The potential therapeutic role of this compound is evident in our studies on metastatic tumors in mice, showing promise for further research,” said Dr. Thamir Ismail, Research Associate at the University of Liverpool.
Dr. Nixon emphasized the team’s dedication to advancing their findings, stating, “We now hope to repeat this study in a large group of animals with similar metastatic cancers to investigate efficacy and stability before potential clinical trials.”
The implications of this discovery are far-reaching, as the protein S100A4 is implicated in various cancers, raising hopes that this approach could be valid for many other commonly occurring human cancers.
Funding support for the project came from The Cancer and Polio Research Fund, Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.