Unexpected Discovery Brings Hope for Improved Cancer Cell Targeting


Professor Karlheinz Peter has dedicated many years to studying platelets, essentially small blood cells whose main job is to promote blood clotting (for example, they are the main cause of a heart attacks) and prevent bleedings in case of injuries.  During his investigations at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, he noticed that ‘activated platelets’ accumulate in areas surrounding a wide range of tumor types.

With findings published in the journal Theranostics, researchers are optimistic about providing a novel approach to targeting and destroying difficult-to-treat cancer cells, and developing new therapeutic options for a multitude of cancers.

When it comes to dealing with cancer, early detection can have a tremendous impact on the success of the treatment and eventual outcome.  One of the main issues that prevents identifying the disease sooner is that some cancer types do not have specific surface markers that can be used to detect them and even the same cancer type can exhibit different properties in different patients.

This unique approach holds great promise both for the diagnosis and therapy of a broad range of tumours.  It provides a new treatment option particularly for difficult to treat cancer types that lack specific markers for therapy with conventional chemotherapy such as breast cancer etc.”, explained Prof.  Karlheinz.

The team developed an antibody-drug conjugate (ADC), comprised of a single-chain antibody (scFv) against the platelet integrin GPIIb/IIIa (scFvGPIIb/IIIa) linked to the potent chemotherapeutic microtubule inhibitor, monomethyl auristatin E (MMAE).  Mouse models carrying metastatic tumors marked reductions in the primary tumor size by over 70%.  Tests were conducted with several types of malignancies, including breast, lung and lymph cancers.


This activated platelet targeted chemotherapy approach also provides the means to deliver high concentrations of chemotherapy specifically to tumour cells whilst minimising side effects and preventing tumour growth”, noted Dr.  Peter.

Cancer has become one of the biggest global burdens of the 21st century.  The World Health Organization reports almost 10 million cancer related deaths each year.  Early detection could significantly reduce this number.  For example, breast cancer, if discovered in its initial stages, can have a rate of recovery upwards of 90%.  If the disease has advanced, this percentage can plummet to below 30%.

This highly promising and unexpected discovery with immense importance for cancer diagnosis and therapy emerged from years of research on the function of platelets in heart disease.  It is a good example of the importance of funding in basic research which often produces unexpected but highly relevant discoveries that ultimately will provide benefit for patients”, mentioned Prof.  Karlheinz in closing.