A key molecular player has been identified by scientists in a sub-type of lung cancer which could lead to a new way to tackle the disease.
Based at the University of Cambridge, UK, Cancer Research funded scientists have discovered lung squamous cell carcinoma (LUSC) cells containing high amounts of a protein called BCL11A. This discovery has the potential of finding a new way to treat lung cancer.
The study showed that manipulating the gene responsible for the protein stopped the development of LUSC in a mouse model of the lung cancer disease.
Revelations of a potentially new treatment
The study also revealed a signalling pathway that BCL11A was involved in, as well as a potential druggable target, called SETD8.
Targeting this molecule both genetically and with early forms of drugs, selectively targeted LUSC cancer cells growing in the lab.
These breakthrough discoveries have led to further funding being granted by Cancer Research UK to facilitate the development of a drug to target the protein, which could one day lead to a new treatment option for some people with lung cancer.
“How LUSC develops is a bit of puzzle – until now our molecular understanding of this process was limited,” says Dr Kyren Lazarus, study author from the University of Cambridge.
“Our research has revealed a major piece of this puzzle, which we are now actively trying to make new drugs against.”
What does this mean for lung cancer patients?
According to Cancer Research, 5% of people diagnosed with lung cancer in England and Wales survive their disease for ten years or more (2010-11).
When diagnosed at its earliest stage, more than a third of people with lung cancer will survive their disease for five years or more, compared with around five in 100 of people when diagnosed at a later stage.
Nevertheless, lung cancer survival has remained obstinately low, particularly when compared to overall cancer survival.
Dr Walid Khaled, lead author from the University of Cambridge, added: “Developing targeted treatments is a real opportunity for improving the outlook for patients.”
“We are working to develop small molecules to specifically block BCL11A in LUSC cells.”
“We are aiming to disrupt critical interactions that BCL11A has with other proteins and are working closely with our colleagues at the Department of Biochemistry in Cambridge and CRUK Beatson Institute Drug Discovery Unit to achieve this.”
What is the future for treating lung cancer?
Although identifying potentially druggable targets is currently an early yet crucial stage, Professor Karen Vousden, Cancer Research UK’s chief scientist, said:
“It’s a fundamental step towards that goal and we look forward to seeing how this discovery progresses along the research pipeline.”