A molecule that promotes cell growth, and is frequently increased in different types of tumours, can be restrained by a molecular version of handcuffs, raising the prospect of a new way of treating the disease according to research published today* (Wednesday).

Cancer Research UK-funded scientists were able to lock up a protein called IGF2**, which helps control growth in all normal cells but when overproduced makes cells grow too large and too fast. In humans, increased levels of IGF2 are associated with a higher relative risk of bowel cancer. The scientists, based at Bristol University, took mice with a genetic predisposition to bowel polyps, which can lead on to cancer, and used a molecule that binds strongly to IGF2 to capture it and rescue the mouse cells from its effects.

This research demonstrates that the principle of using this method to ‘trap’ cancer-driving molecules works. The next step will be to develop clinical drugs that take advantage of similarly natural and non-toxic traps. If successful, such drugs could make a major difference to the lives of many people with cancer.

Professor Bass Hassan, senior author of the report, said: “We knew that having too much IGF2 in cells promotes the development of tumours, and wanted to find out if we could just stop the molecule from working rather than destroying it.

“We took part of another protein that binds exclusively to IGF2 and found it blocked IGF2’s action, leaving other molecules free to go about their business. We’re already in the process of modifying the trap to make it even better for use as a therapeutic drug. If all goes well we will be able to start early clinical trials in the next two or three years.”

Professor John Toy, medical director of Cancer Research UK, said: “We are constantly searching for ways to halt cancer-promoting agents. When they are in the body, this has to be done without affecting important molecular processes that keep us healthy.

“Prof Hassan’s team has shown a viable and potent method of blocking IGF2’s effects in mice. But, of course, it is too early to predict whether it will work as a treatment for cancer patients. However, every successful drug has had to start at the stage of showing it works in principle. Many years of further research are now needed to reveal the true potential of this approach.”


For media enquiries please contact Michael Regnier in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8309 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264059.


* Harper et al. (2006) Cancer Research 66 (4) ** IGF2 – Insulin-like growth factor 2

Bowel cancer

Bowel cancer includes cancers of the colon and rectum. It is the third most common type of cancer in the UK (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer), with nearly 35,000 cases diagnosed each year. It is the second most common cancer in UK women. For more information, visit our CancerHelp UK website.

Up to 80 per cent of cases of colorectal cancer may be preventable by changes in diet. Visit www.reducetherisk.org.uk to find out how to lower your risk of developing many forms of cancer.

Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK’s vision is to conquer cancer through world-class research.
  • The charity works alone and in partnership with others to carry out research into the biology and causes of cancer, to develop effective treatments, improve the quality of life for cancer patients, reduce the number of people getting cancer and to provide authoritative information on cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading independent charity dedicated to research on the causes, treatment and prevention of cancer.
  • For further information about Cancer Research UK’s work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7009 8820 or visit the Cancer Research UK website.


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