British scientists have discovered a means of “switching off” the biological process that causes the deadly muscle loss accompanying cancer.
The researchers hope the measure could greatly extend survival times by preventing cancer sufferers from “wasting away” – a factor responsible for around a quarter of all deaths caused by the disease and one which has serious consequences for the quality of life of thousands of patients.
Professor Michael Tisdale, who led the scientists at Birmingham’s Aston University, said: “Half of all cancer patients experience weight loss and in the case of pancreatic cancer it’s 85%.
“Depletion of the body’s fat and skeletal muscle eventually leads to death because it erodes the respiratory muscles. Patients with the greatest weight loss have the shortest survival times.”
The team discovered a specific tumour protein called PIF that destroyed skeletal muscle by increasing the erosion rate of existing tissue.
Prof Tisdale told the British Science Festival at the University of Surrey in Guildford that his team that developed an antibody capable of preventing this process, adding that the measure was planned for human testing in the near future.
Copyright Press Association 2009