At the John's Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, researchers have been working for years to figure out how prostate cancer cells are able to move from one infected organ and spread to other parts of the body.
“Because we know that's the type of cancer that eventually will kill a man with prostate cancer," said Johns Hopkins Associate Professor of Oncology and Pathology. Dr. Srinivasan Yegnasubramanian.
Yegnasubramanian and the other scientists zeroed in on a protein called AIM1. They discovered when there was less of the protein, cancer cells stop following the rules of normal cells.
"They seem to become more flexible and stronger,” he said. “And as a result they can actually push their way through and invade not only locally but eventually find themselves moving to other parts of the body it seems."
While the missing protein helps the cells migrate through the body, researchers say something else allows them to form full-blown tumors when they get there.
Still, this could be one of prostate cancer’s Achilles Heel’s and a way to target treatment.
"The ultimate goal would be, through a better understanding of this process, to find drugs that can either prevent the formation of those metastasis or reverse them so that after they form a metastasis to actually keep them from spreading or killing the person," Yegnasubramanian said.
The AIM1 protein also likely plays a role in how other cancers spread.
The scientists at Johns Hopkins plan to continue studying the protein and prostate cancer, and work towards identifying what else comes into play for the disease to form new tumors.