_MEDICINE Oncology

_Cell Block

A series of new compounds shows promise in blocking circulating tumor cells from disseminating to bone, preventing further spread and causing the cells’ eventual death.

_Alessandro Fatatis

Fatatis is an experimental oncologist and pharmacology professor in the College of Medicine.

_Joseph Salvino

Salvino, a medicinal chemist and pharmacology professor in the College of Medicine.

A new compound developed by researchers in the College of Medicine could render breast and prostate cancer cells homeless. Without a place to ‘seed,’ the cells eventually die in the bloodstream and don’t metastacize in the bone.

It’s an idea so novel and promising, the National Cancer Institute accepted it into its highly competitive experimental therapeutics program.

Alessandro Fatatis and Joseph Salvino theorize that the compound works by targeting circulating tumor cells that leak into the blood, the ones that produce new lesions — most commonly in the skeleton — and spur the progression of the disease.


A series of new compounds targets cancer cells that are adrift in the bloodstream, making it impossible for them to metasticize to another part of the body.

“Cancer cells in the blood survive only a few hours,” explains Fatatis. “They need to rapidly find a new home. This compound blocks tumor cells from seeding again and again, and push them toward a natural death in the blood.”

Unlike chemotherapy, the compounds aren’t toxic. “We aim to develop a medication that someone could safely take in combination with their normal standard of care,” says Salvino.

Clinical trials will focus on advanced breast cancer patients with evidence of metastatic disease. But both scientists believe their discovery could have implications for other types of cancer as well, particularly prostate cancer.

“This really is a translational scientist’s dream come true,” says Fatatis.