A Promising Therapy

Dr. Anne-Laure Papa using a laptop in a lab

Cancer metastasis, the process of cancer spreading to different parts of the body, is muchfeared because it can make cancer ‘incurable.’ For a cancer patient at high risk of metastasis, time is often a critical issue in the treatment options that the doctor and patient consider to slow down the cancer spread and prolong the patient’s life.

Dr. Anne-Laure Papa and her team are focusing their efforts on developing innovative solutions to target this spread, called “metastatic dissemination.” Her lab concentrates on cellbased diagnostics and therapeutics for cancer, and in her current research she is looking at the potential for using platelets to slow cancer metastasis and buy patients more time.

Cancer spreads in a body when the cancer cells escape the primary tumor and travel in the blood stream to distant tissues. Dr. Papa explains that while the blood stream is not a natural environment for cancer cells, platelets in the blood stream help them survive by cushioning them from the shear stress in the blood vessels and by shielding them from recognition by the body’s immune cells.

Given the role of platelets in protecting cancer cells, Dr. Papa and her colleagues decided to modify the platelets by inactivating them, so that even though they would still interact with cancer cells, they would not protect them anymore. The team published their results last year in a paper in Science Translational Medicine, demonstrating that the modified platelet therapy they are developing slowed the metastatic dissemination in mice.

“It was extremely encouraging,” she recalls. “If a patient is not responding to chemotherapy, having a window of time where spread could still be controlled would be invaluable. More potent therapy started at this time could control the disease at the cancer’s primary site.” Dr. Papa believes that more research should be done in the area of metastatic dissemination, and she and her team are continuing the promising work they have begun.

“Some people are developing interesting strategies in this area, but I think what makes our work unique is that we are trying to design a solution based on a natural interaction in the blood stream between circulating tumor cells and the platelets,” she explains.