Landmark discovery paves way for targeted cancer treatment

SINGAPORE - Scientists at A*STAR's Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) have made a landmark discovery in the battle against the rapid spread of aggressive cancers associated with PRL-3 oncoprotein.

Contrary to the current accepted theory that antibodies can only bind to cancer proteins found on the cancer cell surface, the IMCB team led by Dr Zeng Qi is the first to discover that antibodies can in fact directly target intracellular oncoproteins like PRL-3 that reside within the cancer cells to suppress cancer growth successfully.

This breakthrough finding will pave the way for more targeted solutions for cancer treatment and also offers hope for cancer prevention.

The leading cause of death by cancer is cancer metastasis - the rapid and often fatal spread of cancer cells from the primary tumour to other parts of the body.

PRL-3, which stands for "Phosphatase of Regenerating Liver 3", is a key protein linked to cancer metastasis. PRL-3 is commonly overproduced in many types of aggressive lung, liver, kidney, bone and breast cancer.

For example, colorectal cancer and breast cancer, the top five most deadly cancers in the world and also the number one most common cancers in both male and female population respectively in Singapore, are frequently associated with elevated levels of PRL-3 phosphatase. PRL-3 is therefore an ideal target for cancer diagnostics and treatment.

Dr Zeng said: "Cancer affects people regardless of age, gender, wealth or social status. It represents a tremendous burden on patients, their families and the society. Existing antibody therapy for cancer treatment is very costly. I hope that our research will pave the way for cancer vaccination to become a mainstream cancer treatment that is both effective and affordable for the cancer patients. Especially for individuals who are genetically pre-disposed to specific types of cancer, tailor-made vaccination may one day be able to prevent cancer before it strikes."

Professor Sir David Lane, Chief Scientist of A*STAR said, "Dr Zeng's breakthrough discovery is a fine example of how years of basic research lay the foundation for advancement in translational medicine. This study has introduced a potential paradigm shift in the ways we target cancer cells with antibodies and vaccines.

"It has opened unexpected doors of possibilities in cancer and immunology research. Much further work will of course be needed to establish the safety and efficacy of this approach in cancer patients but it indeed paves the way for more targeted cancer treatment and offers new hope for cancer prevention."

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