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Thursday, March 14, 2013

New Gene Therapy Destroys About 200 Lung Cancer Tumors

Cancer is any of a large group of malignant diseases characterized by an abnormal, uncontrolled growth of new cells in one of the body organs or tissues. One of the most common examples is cancer of the lungs, often caused by smoking or to exposure to asbestos, a type of mineral that is very harmful to humans.

Cancer typically manifests through abnormal masses of tissue known as tumors. Cancer treatment typically involves radiation and/or chemotherapy.  The drawback of these treatments is that they also destroy healthy cells. For example, chemotherapy works by interfering with all cells that divide fast. Another form of treatment is targeted cancer therapy which blocks cancer cell growth by targeting specific molecules that cancer cells rely on to grow and spread.

Unfortunately, targeted cancer treatment does not always work because resistant cells emerge that regenerate the tumor. Thus, the effectiveness of targeted therapy will depend on how well the cancer cell can naturally resist or adapt to the treatment.

Many cancers have a mutated version of a type of gene known as Myc. Genes are units of material contained in a person's cells that contain coded instructions as for how certain bodily characteristics will develop. The mutated Myc gene causes Myc to be persistently expressed.  When this happens, many other genes will express themselves in an uncontrolled manner. Because some of these genes are involved in cell growth, those cells will grow in an uncontrolled way, leading to cancer formation.

Due to the Myc-mutation’s crucial role in cancer, targeting it to prevent it from acting can potentially treat cancer.  In a new study published in Genes & Development, researchers showed that this type of treatment progressively eradicates almost all lung cancer tumors in mice (2 tumors remained after one year).

Impressively, the study found that repeated long-term treatment did not cause side effects. The treatment is known as Onomyc and was be activated and deactivated in alternating 4-week periods for a year by administering an antibiotic in the mice’s drinking water. The researchers concluded that the cancer cells could not adapt or resist targeted Myc-therapy like they can resist other cancer treatments.  A future goal will be to study if these exciting findings will be applicable to humans and to other forms of cancer. 

Suggested reading: Lung Cancer: A Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment

Reference: Soucek L, Whitfield JR, Sodir NM, Massó-Vallés D, Serrano E, Karnezis AN, Swigart LB, Evan GI. (2013). Inhibition of Myc family proteins eradicates KRas-driven lung cancer in mice. Genes Dev. 27(5):504-13.

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