With one year of the project remaining, how is our research study into osteosarcoma shaping up?

Professor Donald Salter and his 2nd year PhD student Harrison Worrell at the University of Edinburgh have been working hard to determine the expression and behaviour of a protein known as NG2/CSPG4 in osteosarcoma. NG2/CSPG4 is known to be associated with tumour growth, progression, spread and treatment resistance in other tumour types. If similar associations of NG2/CSPG4 can be seen in osteosarcoma, it makes this protein a very viable target for treating patients.

We recently spoke to Harrison to catch up with the progress of the project.

You’ve been working on this project for two years now! What kind of progress have you made?

So far, we’ve been able to identify that NG2/CSPG4 is expressed in approximately 90% of the osteosarcoma patient samples that have been assessed. Not only this, but the majority of this expression is of high levels when compared to its presence in healthy bone cells. Comparing the exact expression level of NG2/CSPG4 in each tumour sample to the clinical data of individual patients – which includes information of the anonymised patients diagnosis and overall survival – will allow us to determine any associations between NG2/CSPG4 levels and the patients outlook and tumour progression.

As you enter your third and final year of the PhD, what are your plans?

The next steps of the project will involve looking at NG2/CSPG4 in relation to the tumours surroundings. As this protein is expressed on the surface of tumour cells, it is thought that it may interact with molecules and other cells in the area to influence the development and progression of osteosarcoma.

Finally, in order to complete the project, Professor Salter and I are awaiting the arrival of possible therapeutic agents, which are antibodies joined with immunotoxins, to test in the lab. The antibody will bind specifically to NG2/CSPG4 on the surface of tumour cells, and when it does so it will release the immunotoxin to the tumour cell directly, causing the tumour cells death while having limited effects to the surrounding healthy tissues therefore reducing any treatment side-effects.

What kind of impact could this project have?

If this proves to be successful, this study will lead the way in supporting the development of such antibodies to target NG2/CSPG4 as a treatment for osteosarcoma.