New York: Researchers have discovered a new strategy for attacking cancer cells that has the potential to reduce side effects of the treatment, fundamentally changing the way doctors treat and prevent the deadly disease.
"We think we have a way not only to more specifically target cancer cells, but a way that could become a frontline treatment for women who have cancers of many types and want to preserve fertility," said one of the researchers John Herr from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in the US.
In their study of germ cells - the reproductive cells that make up sperm and eggs - the researchers found a link between developing egg cells and tumours.
The researchers found that a protein called SAS1B that is typically found only on the surface of developing and mature egg cells is also expressed in breast, melanoma, uterine, renal, ovarian, head and neck, and pancreatic cancers.
"The research reveals a previously little known fundamental aspect of cancer - that many types of cancer, when they dysregulate or go awry, revert back and take on features of the egg, the original cell from which all the tissues in the body derive," Herr said.
The researchers found a way to exploit this fundamental insight by developing a method for delivering medication using the SAS1B protein as a target.
"You add a SAS1B-targeted antibody with a drug on it, and within 15 minutes of contacting the cancer cells, the antibody binds at the cell surface and the antibody-SAS1B complexes begin the internalization process," Herr said.
After about an hour, the antibody-SAS1B complexes reach compartments inside the cell and release their toxic drug payload, triggering changes leading to cell death within a few days, the study said.
This kind of targeted drug delivery could mean a dramatic reduction in the difficult side effects of traditional cancer treatment such as hair loss, nausea, anemia and neuropathy.
The findings were published in the scientific journal Oncotarget.