Researchers develop an antibody that can save cancerous bones

​A group of researchers headed by Niels Behrendt and Lars Engelholm from the Finsen Laboratory and Biotech Research & Innovation Centre (BRIC) have discovered that cells from primary bone cancer degrade bone tissue through a different process than in metastatic bone cancer. By treating the patient with a special antibody, researchers have succeeded in slowing down this process and reducing bone loss by up to 80% in a cancer mouse model.

​​​In the long term, treatment with such an antibody will result in fewer amputations for young bone cancer patients, and future studies will show whether this treatment strategy can prevent lethal spreading of the cancer to other organs.

Primary bone cancer or OS is a rare type of cancer which often afflicts adolescents and children. Whereas most types of bone cancer have their origin in other parts of the body and then spread to the bones through metastases, OS originates in the bone marrow itself. Common for all types of bone cancer is that they degrade the bone tissue and have a high mortality rate.

​​Specialised cancer cells do the dirty work themselves

When cancer cells invade the bones, they destroy the surrounding healthy tissue. In metastatic bone cancer, the cancer cells stimulate other cells to degrade the bone tissue, and until now researchers have assumed that this was also the case with OS. However, by studying OS tumours, researchers at the Finsen Laboratory have discovered that, rather than using other cells, this type of cancer cell was able to degrade bone tissue itself using special enzymes and receptors.

"By treating a mouse cancer model with a special antibody, we were able to block the micro-processes used by this type of cancer cell to degrade bone tissue, and thereby effectively protect the bone tissue," said Lars Engelholm.

​​Antibody therapy can reduce the number of amputations​

Researchers have high hopes that it will be possible to use the new antibody to develop a treatment for bone cancer patients.

"The majority of the development of targeted cancer medicine today is based on antibodies," said Niels Behrendt.

Treatment of OS includes removal of the cancerous bone. In order to avoid complete amputation of arms or legs, the patient undergoes chemotherapy in the run up to the surgery in order to shrink the tumour. Preventing the bone from being further degraded in this period is crucial and this is where the research team sees a great potential for their discovery. Clement Trovik, a Specialist Surgeon from Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway, and clinical partner in the project explained:

"For cancer patients – especially children and adolescents – amputation of an arm or a leg is a severe disease impact. For many years, we have been searching for medicine that can prevent cancer-induced bone degradation and its devastating effects. Treatment with this new antibody as a supplement to traditional treatment can preserve more bone tissue for reconstruction and thereby prevent amputation." 

Results of the study have just been published in the internationally acclaimed Journal of Pathology​

The research has been conducted with funding from:
The Danish Medical Research Council, the Danish Cancer Society, Novo Nordisk Foundation, Lundbeck Foundation and the Danish National Research Foundation under the Danish–Chinese Centre for Proteases and Cancer programme.

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