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Washington State University researcher and Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Jason Wu. (WSU Photo)

Like many cancers, prostate cancer rarely stays put in the organ it is named for. The disease has a special knack for spreading into bones, a painful and lethal development that affects 90 percent of patients who die of prostate cancer.

Researchers at Washington State University’s Spokane, Wash., branch have discovered how the cancer is able to spread into bones so easily, and their research points towards a treatment that could help prevent the lethal spread.

In a study published Monday in the journal Cancer Cell, WSU researcher and assistant professor Jason Wu found that prostate cancer cells were able to actually break down bone using an enzyme called MAOA.

The enzyme affected the normal process of bone cells breaking down, kicking it into high gear and allowing cancer cells to invade the bone and grow new tumors.

Wu told GeekWire in an email that this spread has a huge impact on patients’ quality of life, leading to impaired mobility, bone pain, and even bone fractures and spinal cord compressions. Those and other effects of the tumors mean patients that develop them are much less likely to survive.

Even more notably, “current therapies have very limited or no effectiveness for prostate cancer patients who develop metastatic bone tumors,” he said.

In his study, Wu also found that a drug similar to ones used in antidepressants was able to disrupt the MAOA enzyme, meaning it could be used to prevent prostate cancer from spreading to the bones.

Although this study was only done in mice, Wu said his team is “collaborating with other researchers from both basic and clinical sides at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Southern California to seek opportunities for translating our research work into the clinic.”

Wu points out that, although 1 in 7 men develop prostate cancer, we still lack therapies that can treat most of the lethal forms of the disease, resulting in a huge unmet need in this area.

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