New hope for those suffering from bone cancer

October 12, 2010 By Emma Rayner

Children and young people who are diagnosed with bone cancer could benefit from better treatment in the future thanks to new research at The University of Nottingham.

The Bone Trust launches Awareness Week today and has funded a new project at the University which is testing a theory that ‘friendly bacteria’ can be used to kill bone cancer cells.

Researchers at the School of Clinical Sciences’ Division of Pre-Clinical Oncology are investigating whether modifying a harmless type of the bacterium, Salmonella typhimurium, can produce molecules which kill cancer cells in osteosarcoma, a primary bone cancer. The scientists are using a clinically safe form of the bacterium which has been found to localise to tumour tissue rather than healthy tissue.

Leading the research, Dr. Teresa Coughlan, said: ”Developing a treatment that effectively targets cancer cells, but doesn’t damage healthy cells is the Holy Grail for bone cancer treatment. We are excited by this project as potentially it could result in a new treatment for osteosarcoma, which typically has a poor prognosis.”

Osteosarcoma (OS) is the most common type of primary bone cancer and although rare, can be particularly distressing because it affects mostly children and adolescents. Cases tend to have a poor outlook because the cancer often does not respond well to the treatments currently available. There have been few new treatments for OS in the past 20 years and more research and techniques to fight it are urgently needed as more than 2,000 children and young people are diagnosed with the disease every year in the UK.

A main challenge in developing better treatments for bone cancer is finding a much more effective way of targeting anti-cancer drugs at the tumour. Many drugs are given by intravenous injection and use the body’s venous system to reach their target, but tumours in bone tend to have a low blood supply.

Dr. Coughlan’s aim is to modify the Salmonella bacteria to act as a vehicle for cancer-killing agents. It’s believed special molecules, called RNA interference molecules, when produced in the bacteria will be more effectively released into malignant cells destroying the levels of cancer-causing molecules there.

It’s hoped this research will eventually lead to a treatment for bone cancer that is better targeted at tumours and doesn’t affect normal, healthy tissue.

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