Ewing sarcoma is a rare cancer with a high cure rate—if it can be treated before it spreads. New research has identified a treatment approach that can help prevent the cancer from spreading.
Ewing sarcoma (ES) is a type of cancer that forms in bones and the tissue around bones, and was first identified by the researcher James Ewing in 1920. It mostly affects children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 20.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the University Medical Center Düsseldorf, and the University of Washington recently published a paper in Oncotarget examining the role of a particular type of communication between cells in the spread of Ewing sarcoma. The results show that preventing that communication could prevent the spread of cancer—and facilitate treatment.
Preventing the spread of cancer
For Ewing sarcoma patients, increasing the intensity of chemotherapy has provided new hope. But despite increased remission, some patients do not respond to traditional treatments. Once the cancer has spread, or metastasized, common treatments are not effective at targeting the new tumors.
For cancer to spread, several processes need to happen. The cancer cells must proliferate, or multiply. Cancer stem cells go through a process called self-renewal to create more cancer stem cells. Cells must develop the ability to move throughout the body, a characteristic called motility. And, finally, cancer cells must migrate to and invade new body parts, where they multiply again.
In this study, the researchers focused on a single method of communication between cells, communication based on a class of proteins called WNT. Specifically, the researchers administered a drug that prevents cell signaling involving WNT proteins, looking to see the effect of that prevention on cancer’s spread.
When the drug was administered in mice with Ewing sarcoma, the researchers observed a slower spread of cancer. Even more promising, mice treated with the drug survived for much longer after the primary tumor was removed. The researchers believe that inhibiting WNT cell signaling has an effect by limiting the early migration and invasion steps in the spread of cancer.
“Our findings strongly implicate Wnt signaling in the early steps of ES metastasis and demonstrate that WNT974 [the drug] has the potential to significantly improve the survival of ES patients through the specific inhibition of metastasis,” said the authors. Overall, the ability to slow the spread of cancer could have a major impact on Ewing sarcoma patients, where treatment is highly dependent on the degree to which cancer has spread.