Protein Key to Osteosarcoma May Unlock Treatments for Deadly Bone Cancers That Affect Kids

​Osteosarcoma on a thigh bone of a 5th Dynasty Egyptian – credit: Wellcome Trust UK, CC 4.0.

Treatments for deadly bone cancers that mainly affect children may be on the horizon after experiments identified a protein that promotes cell death in osteosarcomas.

Researchers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University said the discovery could lead to a cure for all types of skeletal tumors.

Osteosarcoma is the most common bone cancer, but it occurs mainly in children. They are linked with rapid bone growth and tend to develop in boys more often than girls due to average height differences.

Osteosarcoma has a 55% survival rate, which has unfortunately not improved this century, and scientists are keen on developing potential medicines since surgical removal of the osteosarcoma tumors is often impossible.

At Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, researchers have identified a bone matrix protein called secreted phosphoprotein 24 kD (Spp24) that binds to and neutralizes a protein called bone morphogenetic protein 2, which has properties that help the tumors grow and proliferate.

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“Cell proliferation, migration, and invasiveness were all inhibited by Spp24. Treatment with Spp24 reduced tumor growth,” said Dr. Haijun Tian at Jiao Tong. “These results confirm the potential of Spp24 as a therapeutic agent for the treatment of osteosarcoma and other skeletal tumors.”

“Like many other bone matrix proteins, the more we look into the function of Spp24, the more surprising roles we find even though the primary function of Spp24 remains uncertain,” he added.

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Medicine and biology are like that sometimes: drugs and proteins have therapeutic functions, even if the reason behind them is unclear.

The research was published in the journal Orthopedic Research. 

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