Malignant cancer cells usually begin from tumours known as adenomas. From this, it drastically develops as adenocarcinoma which is an aggressive form of cancer. Lung adenocarcinoma is no joke as it accounts for about 40% of U.S. lung cancer cases.
Since the progress from being benign to malignant is quick, the discovery of this key step in lung cancer evolution by MIT biologists plays a very significant role. The major switch that they have identified occurs as the adenomas transitions to adenocarcinomas, which has been observed in a mouse model of lung cancer.
Upon this discovery, they have also found out that blocking this major switch prevents the tumours from becoming more aggressive. Thus, the drugs that exhibit a mechanism of action that interferes with this switch can be of big help in treating early-stage lung cancers.
Tyler Jacks, the director of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the study’s senior author, mentions that “Understanding the molecular pathways that get activated as a tumour transitions from a benign state to a malignant one has important implications for treatment. These findings also suggest methods to prevent or interfere with the onset of advanced disease.”
The major switch occurs when a small percentage of cells in the tumour start acting like stem cells. This allows them to multiply to unlimited populations of new cancer cells.
Tuomas Tammela, postdoc at the Koch Institute and a lead author of the paper that appears in the May 10 online edition of Nature, mentioned that “It seems that the stem cells are the engine of tumor growth. They’re endowed with very robust proliferative potential, and they give rise to other cancer cells and also to more stem-like cells.”
This new knowledge about the key step in lung cancer evolution is a major advantage that could offer new treatment strategy for lung cancer.