A new weapon against bone metastasis? Princeton lab develops antibody to fight cancer

Written by
Office of Communications, Liz Fuller-Wright, Princeton University
Dec. 11, 2017

A new weapon against bone metastasis? Princeton lab develops antibody to fight cancer

Liz Fuller-Wright, Office of Communications
Dec. 11, 2017 noon

Yibin Kang

Yibin Kang, seen here in his research lab at Princeton, has identified an antibody that inhibits the spread of breast cancer to bone.

Photo by
Denise Applewhite, Office of Communications

In the ongoing battle between cancer and modern medicine, some therapeutic agents, while effective, can bring undesirable or even dangerous side effects. “Chemo saves lives and improves survival, but it could work much better if you eliminate unwanted side effects from it,” said Princeton University cancer researcher Yibin Kang, the Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Molecular Biology.

To explain his new weapon in the war against the metastatic spread of cancer to bone, Kang uses a movie metaphor: “Independence Day.”

In the 1996 blockbuster, the people of Earth fight back against alien attackers, deploying a computer virus to disable the shields guarding the attackers’ spaceships. A new antibody, developed through a collaboration of Kang’s lab with drug company Amgen, works similarly. Antibody 15D11 fights bone metastasis by undermining cancer’s defense strategy and allowing chemotherapy to work.

“The Kang Lab primarily studies breast cancer metastasis — how cancer cells spread from the breast to other organs — because what kills the vast majority of cancer patients is not the original tumor but rather metastasis,” said Hanqiu Zheng, a former postdoctoral fellow with Kang and the lead author of the study published Dec. 11 in the journal Cancer Cell, who is now an assistant professor at Tsinghua University in China.

“Our project specifically looked at bone metastasis and how cancer cells and bone cells ‘talk’ to each other through molecular signaling,” said Rebecca Tang, Class of 2016, who worked with Kang for three years and is now a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania. “Previous work in the lab had shown that a molecule called Jagged1 is a critical part of this crosstalk and makes it easier for breast cancer cells to metastasize to bone. We therefore wanted to see if we could prevent or reduce metastasis by using an antibody called 15D11 to block Jagged1.”