According to recent research published in Cancer Cell, scientists from the United Kingdom have found that a vital self-destruct switch in cells can be hijacked to make non small cell lung cancers more aggressive. The study was partially funded by the European Research Council.
Researchers from the Cancer Research UK Centre at UCL (University College London) Cancer Institute discovered that mutations in the KRAS gene can interfere with TRAIL receptors, protective self-destruct switches, which are usually involved in the death of potentially cancerous cells.
This research was carried out in mice and cancer cells to prove that in cancers with malfunctioning versions of the KRAS gene, TRAIL receptors might help the growth and spread of cancer cells to new and different areas of the body (metastasis). These KRAS errors exist in 30 percent of all non small cell lung cancers and in about 95 percent of all pancreatic cancers.
The lead researcher of the project who is also the scientific director of the Cancer Research UK-UCL Centre, Professor Henning Walczak, said in a press release: “Our research has unveiled a new strategy used by some pancreatic and non small cell lung cancers to overcome our body’s natural defences against cancer. By understanding the faults in these cancers we think we can develop more tailored treatments, which could one day provide urgently-needed options for patients with these types of pancreatic and non small cell lung cancers.”
About 32,500 people in the UK each year are diagnosed with non small cell lung cancer and 8,600 people receive a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. The survival rates associated to these cancers has not improved significantly over the last 40 years. “Sadly survival from pancreatic and lung cancers remains far too low, partly because these cancers are very difficult to treat once they have spread. We urgently need better treatments, so it’s vital to delve deeper into the molecular workings of these cancers to find ways to combat them. This research may one day help us find a way to block cancer spread, which would be a vital step to save more lives,” concluded Nell Barrie, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK.