New research has revealed how lowering cholesterol could potentially prevent or help stop the spread of prostate cancer.
The researchers made the discovery after identifying a change in function of the hnRNPK protein in people with advanced prostate cancer.
Their laboratory tests show lowering cholesterol can help control the release of hnRNPK from prostate cancer cells. The protein is released in small particles called exosomes, which prostate cancer cells send out to prepare other parts of the body for cancer spread, or metastasis.
The team, from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the University of Queensland, is now developing a prototype blood test to detect the level of released hnRNPK.
It hopes the test may one day be used to identify patients who should be given cholesterol-lowering drugs to prevent metastases.
Harley Robinson, lead researcher from QIMR Berghofer's Precision and Systems Biomedicine Group, said the hnRNPK protein controls the content of the exosomes sent out by prostate cancer cells to prepare other parts of the body for the spreading disease.
"The exosomes act like a pre-planting conditioner that makes the environment in the new parts of the body receptive to the cancer cells when they eventually reach the site," she said.
"Our lab work showed that reducing the cholesterol levels or boosting Omega-3 levels in the cells could stop the hnRNPK message from leaving the cancer cell and spreading its dangerous message."
Michelle Hill, senior researcher and head of the QIMR Berghofer group, said the discovery may have a wider application.
"The findings are very exciting and we think this hnRNPK protein might play a role in metastases in other cancers as well, but it is early days and more research is needed to confirm the link," Associate Professor Hill said.
The researchers plan to soon evaluate a larger group of samples, which will be selected from a completed prostate cancer clinical trial led by Emeritus Professor Frank Gardiner and Dr Matthew Roberts (consultant urologist at RBWH & UQ Centre for Clinical Research).
The research findings are published in the journal Clinical and Translational Medicine.
- Prostate cancer that remains within the prostate (localised prostate cancer) is highly curable but prognosis is poor for men with advanced prostate cancer that spreads through the body.
- About four per cent of prostate cancer cases are detected at an advanced, metastatic stage - and less than 40 per cent of those men with metastatic or Stage IV prostate cancer survive longer than five years.
- Metastatic prostate cancer can also develop years after a patient's initial treatment and when they thought they were free of the disease.
- There is no specific test to detect cancer metastasis.