This picture shows bone cells damaged by LOX, a protein secreted by oxygen-deprived breast cancer tumors.
Image credit: Dr. Alison Gartland
LOX prepares bone for the arrival of cancer cells
To reach their findings, Dr. Gartland and colleagues used mass spectrometry to analyze the protein secretion of tumors among patients with estrogen receptor negative (ER-) breast cancer.They found that when breast cancer cells are deprived of oxygen, they release high levels of LOX. This protein makes holes in the bone of breast cancer patients as a way of preparing it for the arrival of cancer cells. "We show that these lesions subsequently provide a platform for circulating tumor cells to colonize and form bone metastases," the authors explain. In another part of the study, the team found that introducing LOX to tumor-free mice also led to bone damage. However, they found an existing drug called bisphosphonate - used to treat bone diseases such as osteoporosis - prevented such damage in these mice. As such, the authors suggest that administering similar treatments to patients with breast cancer could stop the disease spreading to the bone. Commenting on the findings, study co-leader Dr. Janine Erler, of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, says:
"Once cancer spreads to the bone it is very difficult to treat. Our research has shed light on the way breast cancer cells prime the bone so it is ready for their arrival. If we were able to block this process and translate our work to the clinic, we could stop breast cancer in its tracks thereby extending patients' lives."
The researchers say their next step is to determine how LOX interacts with bone cells to drive cancer metastasis, which will bring us closer to finding drugs that stop the process. "This could also have implications for how we treat other bone diseases too," adds Dr. Gartland.Earlier this month, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the British Journal of Surgery, which suggests women with hereditary breast cancer are at no higher risk of poor treatment outcomes than breast cancer patients without a family history of the disease. Written by Honor Whiteman