Previous studies report that metastasis is the cause of nearly 90 percent of cancer deaths, but it remains poorly understood. Once cells mutate and spread to distant regions of the body the cancer becomes difficult, and in the case of pleural mesothelioma, impossible, to eradicate. Getting a handle on the spread of cancer is critical for increasing survival. Now, researchers report they have found a gene that can reduce metastasis by three-fourths.
Using mice models, researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute of the UK identified 23 genes that either increased or decreased the spread of cancer cells to the lungs. They also found that these genes impacted the immune system, the body’s natural defense mechanism for fighting cancer. They homed in on the Spns2 gene and found that when the gene was removed, the largest change occurred resulting in a reduction of nearly four times in the spread of tumors to the lungs. The researchers reported that the effect of this gene on colon, lung and breast cancers also resulted in reduced metastasis.
“Loss of the Spns2 gene causes the greatest reduction in the formation of tumour colonies and represents a novel therapeutic target,” said Dr. David Adams from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, in a Jan. 11 press release. “Drugs that target this could help reduce or prevent the spread of tumours through the body.”
Stopping tumor growth and preventing metastasis is especially critical for increasing survival in mesothelioma and lung cancer patients. Mesothelioma is one of the most aggressive cancers, and one of the reasons is due to the ability of asbestos fibers to become embedded in the lining of the lungs and to fester for years, even decades, before any symptoms develop. Once mesothelioma is diagnosed, it is typically in an advanced stage where treatment is moot.
This research, however, led the researchers to better understand the Spns2 gene’s impact on the immune system and in tumor spread. This combination brings hope to many in the cancer community that an effective treatment could deliver a one-two punch by waking up the immune system and halting metastasis.
Dr Justine Alford, Cancer Research UK
“Cancer that has spread is tough to treat, so research such as this is vital in the search for ways to tackle this process.”
These findings suggest another unique cancer characteristic to be considered when personalizing care for lung cancer and mesothelioma patients. Targeted therapy improves the prognosis in people suffering from mesothelioma and other cancers.
“This work supports the emerging area of immunotherapy, where the bodies’ own immune system is harnessed to fight cancer,” said Dr. Anneliese Speak of the Sanger Institute. “Investigation of further targets in the Spns2 pathway, or other targets identified in this study could help develop potential therapies.”