​Research funded by the Bone Cancer Research Trust has found that a protein present on the surface of osteosarcoma cells drives osteosarcoma tumour growth, progression, and metastasis - providing a new target for treatment.​

Dr Luke Tattersall was funded by a PhD Studentship awarded to Professor Alison Gartland from The University of Sheffield. Together with collaborators from the Universities of Nantes, Ferrara and Norwich they have found that the P2RX7B protein enables osteosarcoma progression.

P2RX7B is a variant of a protein which plays a key role in both cell growth and death. The team of researchers have demonstrated that osteosarcoma cells with high levels of P2RX7B grow faster in the laboratory and have an increased ability to travel, leading to a higher chance of metastasis.

This increased metastatic activity was confirmed in a pre-clinical model. where osteosarcoma cells containing higher levels of P2RX7B led to increased formation of lung metastasis. Drugs that inactivate this protein already exists and have been used in the clinic for other conditions; when used as part of this model, a reduced trend in metastasis was identified.

Future studies are focused on understanding the connections P2RX7B makes with other proteins in the cell, to determine what potential drug combinations can be explored to give rise to future new treatments for osteosarcoma.

Lead researcher Professor Alison Gartland, from the University of Sheffield School of Medicine, has shared what this research could mean for osteosarcoma patients in the future:

This research provides vital information about how the protein P2X7RB contributes to the growth and spread of osteosarcoma. Drugs have already been developed to target this protein and found to be safe for use in patients. We now need to see if we can use these drugs to reduce the amount of chemotherapy needed to treat osteosarcoma, potentially leading to more effective and kinder treatments for patients.

Dr Luke Tattersall describes what it meant to be funded by the Bone Cancer Research Trust as part of his PhD:

The funding from BCRT for my PhD has not only enabled me to publish this vital work from our project, giving me the opportunity to learn many skills and techniques related to specifically researching bone cancers that have prepared me for my future career, but it has given me the unique opportunity to become a part of the bone cancer community. From my personal interactions with the bone cancer community, including patients and their affected families, hearing their stories inspires and motivates me to continue pursuing a career in primary bone cancer and to establish my own independent research path in the future. Both Prof Gartland and I are passionate about improving the lives of primary bone cancer patients with the development of new therapeutics - the support from BCRT and their fundraisers is essential for this.

The study is published in the Journal of Bone Oncology and is freely available here