Researchers may have found a key to prostate cancer and it comes in the form of a single molecule known as DNA-PKcs.

And with the key, there is a potential for treatment.

In a new study published in Cancer Cell, researchers from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, report that levels of the DNA repair kinase molecule DNA-PKcs are significantly elevated in advanced prostate cancer.

Cancer Molecule

Researchers say suppression of that molecule could inhibit the tumors from metastasizing. And one pharmaceutical company is already working on a DNA-PKcs inhibiting drug that will be ready soon for human trials.

“Finding a way to halt or prevent cancer metastasis has proven elusive. We discovered that a molecule called DNA-PKcs could give us a means of knocking out major pathways that control metastasis before it begins,” study co-author Karen Knudsen, Ph.D., director of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center and professor at Thomas Jefferson University, said in a news release.

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Going After a Cancer Cell’s ‘Glue’

After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More than 200,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011, according to the CDC.

Cancer, in general, is a disease during which cells in the body grow out of control and can invade other parts of the body. Groups of cancerous cells, or tumors, can metastasize, or burst, which is a dangerous late-stage development in cancer.

Not all tumors are cancerous — benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.

Metastasis is the key stage for researchers. During metastasis, cancerous cells become sticky and attach to different parts of the body, spreading the disease.

DNA-PKcs is a molecule that repairs broken DNA strands in cancerous cells, acting as glue that keeps the cell alive even after it should have self-destructed. DNA-PKcs regulates tumor progression, in addition to signaling an enzyme that allows cancerous cells to become mobile.

“These results strongly suggest that DNA-PKcs is a master regulator of the pathways and signals that lead to the development of metastases in prostate cancer, and that high levels of DNA-PKcs could predict which early stage tumors may go on to metastasize,” Knudsen said.

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A High Level of DNA-PKcs

In a sample of data from more than 230 prostate cancer patients, researchers found that DNA-PKcs is significantly elevated in advanced prostate cancer. An increase in DNA-PKcs was also correlated with poorer outcomes and an increased risk of metastasis.

The researchers also found that suppression of the molecule stopped prostate cancer tumors from metastasizing in trials involving mice.

The Jefferson team is a member of the Prostate Cancer Clinical Trials Consortium, which will begin a new trial of the drug Celgene CC-115 DNA-PKcs inhibitor.

“Although the pathway to drug approval can take many years, this new trial will provide some insight into the effect of DNAP-PKcs inhibitors as anti-tumor agents,” Knudsen said. “In parallel, using this kinase as a marker of severe disease may also help identify patients whose tumors will develop into aggressive metastatic disease, so that we can treat them with more aggressive therapy earlier.”

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