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.”
“Just like if you have a bad driveway, and you use an excavator to remove the old surface and then you lay a new layer of it — that’s how you maintain the integrity and strength of the bone tissue,” Kang said.