Protein discovery offers hope for prostate cancer

18 Jan 2008

Australian scientists are researching a possible way of making aggressive prostate cancer cells less invasive after their discovery of a protein essential for the normal functioning of cells. 

Professor Robert Parton led a team of scientists from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at The University of Queensland, who discovered that the protein PTRF-cavin is required for caveolae formation. 

Caveolae are pits on the surface of cells, which are involved in many processes essential for the healthy functioning of the body, including tumour suppression. Scientists had already identified one protein involved in caveolae formation, called caveolin, however they were unaware that it functions in conjunction with PTRF-cavin. 

“Caveolae formation is a fundamental process that affects every cell in the body, and importantly, has implications for prostate cancer diagnosis and therapy,” Professor Parton said. 

“In most cancers, the cells stop expressing caveolin, and the caveolae don't form. But some aggressive prostate cancer cells actually show much higher levels of caveolin than normal. 

“We found that although caveolin levels were high, caveolae still weren't forming, and further research found this is because PRTF-cavin is missing.” 

The team made this discovery by adding PTRF-cavin to a prostate cancer cell line, which prompted the formation of caveolae. They are currently studying if this change could alter the invasive properties of the cancer cells. 

“It will take several years, but we're hopeful that we can develop this process for use in diagnosing, and eventually treating, prostate cancer,” Dr Michelle Hill, a senior investigator on the team, said. 

“Rather than current cancer treatments, which kill any cells that are growing quickly, this would be a more targeted, tailored treatment that should result in less side effects and a more effective therapy overall.” 

Dr Hill said the fact that a protein, caveolin, was associated with promoting cancer in one case and preventing it in another highlighted the need for different avenues of treatment for different cancers. 

“The role of caveolin differs between cancers because it is in a different form at the cell surface, which highlights the importance of not only the protein, but also its interaction with other proteins and its location on the cell surface.” 

The team's research was published in the highly-regarded international journal Cell

Media contacts: Professor Rob Parton – 07 3346 2032
Dr Michelle Hill – 07 3346 2031 
Bronwyn Adams (IMB Communications) – 07 3346 2134 or 0418 575 247