Blocking Protein May Prevent Metastatic Ovarian Cancer

Target may lead to the development of new drugs that inhibit cancer.

Targeting a specific protein on the surface of ovarian cancer cells may be the key to reducing metastases and disease prevention, according to a study published in Oncogene.

Ovarian cancer, often referred to as the silent killer, is among the deadliest cancers in women, and is often diagnosed in the late stage. According to the American Cancer Society, only 20% to 30% of women diagnosed in the late stages are alive after 5 years.

“The greatest barrier to our ability to treat cancer in this stage is that we know very little about the molecules that cause the disease to spread,” said lead investigator Maria Barbolina. “The goal of our research is to identify key molecules that govern metastasis and use them as targets for the development of new drugs.”

The investigators hypothesized that biomolecules that are successfully targeted with drugs in other cancers may also be viable targets in metastatic ovarian cancer. In prior studies, it was found that a fractalkine receptor is expressed in most ovarian cancer case, which the study authors believe may help the cancer spread throughout the body when stimulated by a different protein that binds to it.

In the new study, the investigators used a mouse model to demonstrate that lowering the production of the fractalkine receptor could prevent tumors from spreading to nearby areas of the peritoneal wall, bowel, or liver.

Because nearly one-third of cancer drugs target G protein-coupled receptors, such as fractalkine, “we reasoned that blocking it may prevent or reduce ovarian cancer metastasis, because it’s expressed in 64% of metastatic ovarian carcinoma specimens,” Barbolina said.

Ovarian cancer develops mainly in women after menopause, with about half being 63 years or older. In the United States, an estimated 22,440 women will receive a new diagnosis in 2017, and approximately 15,000 will die from the disease.