Project Summary


Prostate cancer is at its most dangerous when it leaves the prostate and spreads around the body


PlexinB1 helps cells to move, and helps cancer cells to spread


Dr Williamson is developing drugs to stop PlexinB1 from helping cancer cells to spread


She has also discovered that cancers with more PlexinB1 are more likely to be aggressive


A new diagnostic? The project will now find out if PlexinB1 can be used to predict which cancers will spread and which will not


PlexinB1 is also relevant
to hormone therapy, one of the main ways prostate cancer is treated


Dr Williamson discovered that PlexinB1 might stop hormone therapy from working


Blocking PlexinB1 could both stop cancer spreading and make hormone therapy work better

About the Researchers

Cancer Division, King’s College London

Dr Magali Williamson

Principal Investigator

Magali has been at King’s College London since 2014 and leads the Prostate Cancer Metastasis Group. Her main research interest lies in understanding how prostate tumours spread to other parts of the body and ways in which to block this process.

Dr Ritu Garg

Co-Investigator

Ritu obtained her PhD from Birkbeck College and the Ludwig Institute of Cancer Research in 2007. Her PhD focused on understanding the role of Rnd3, an atypical Rho-GTPase and its interaction with Rho-kinase, an important kinase involved in multiple signalling pathways. She arrived at Kings College London in 2007 working as a postdoctoral researcher in Professor Anne Ridley’s group. In 2019, Ritu joined Dr Magali Williamson’s group, in order to identify the role of Plexin B1 and Ran GTPase in prostate cancer signalling and progression.

What is metastasis?


Cancer which starts in one place, such as the prostate, is called a primary tumour. In some cases, cells can break off the primary tumour and travel around the body. Locally advanced prostate cancer is cancer which has spread to the area just outside the prostate. When cells travel further, they can create new tumours in brand new sites. These are called secondary cancers or metastatic tumours, and the process is called metastasis.

It is after this process of metastasis, or spread, prostate cancer becomes advanced. Advanced prostate cancer is responsible for almost all deaths from prostate cancer.

The Research Project


Dr Magali Williamson’s team focuses on preventing the spreading of the cancer cells by investigating the cellular changes which underpin metastasis. They are interested in a protein, called Plexin B1. In a healthy human, PlexinB1 is involved in cell migration, and it is present in large quantities and often mutated in advanced prostate cancer.

PCR funded scientist Dr Magali Williamson talks about her work on a protein called Plexin B1, to stop the spread of prostate cancer.

Backed by PCR, Dr Williamson and her team were responsible for a significant breakthrough in understanding the way that prostate cancer cells spread, when they discovered that PlexinB1 is intrinsic to metastasis in prostate cancer.


 

Prostate cancer microscope slide staining

The research team is now working to turn this exciting new knowledge into a new treatment for prostate cancer. They’ve proven that metastasis can be reduced by inhibiting Plexin B1 with a type of protein called a polyclonal antibody. However, because PlexinB1 has healthy functions as well, it doesn’t make sense to completely block it from working. The team are working on getting a better understanding of which functions of the protein are relevant to metastasis, so that they can develop a more specific, targeted therapy, which will be more effective and have fewer side effects than polyclonal antibodies.

Dr Magali Williamson at the PCR Lab Tour

Metastatic prostate cancer is responsible for almost all prostate cancer deaths. In fact, secondary cancer often kills more people than the primary tumour, across many different cancer types.

The therapies being developed by Dr Williamson’s team could contain early prostate cancer within the prostate and stop the cancer spreading further, which would dramatically improve the prostate cancer survival rate, and quality of life for men with prostate cancer.

This research has huge potential for families affected by all sorts of cancers, as this kind of breakthrough could lead to new ways to cut off the ability of many different types of cancer cells to spread.

The Future


Dr Williamson’s team is currently testing a range of different drugs, called monoclonal antibodies, to see if and how they affect PlexinB1’s role in prostate cancer. The results of these tests will guide the team, so they can start testing different drugs to see if they successfully inhibit the spread of prostate cancer. They will also look at using these drugs at different stages of the disease, to establish the best time to give them to patients. To do this, they will work with in vivo models originally developed by another PCR project. Clinical trials would then be the final step before this therapy could become readily available to patients.

Collaborations and Partnerships


Dr Williamson is working with Belgian biotechnology company Eurogentec to manufacture the antibodies and has secured cell samples from the American Department of Defense’s Prostate Cancer Biorepository Network.

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