New research recently published in the journal iScience takes a deeper look into metastatic cancers, finding that a particular gene called mEAK-7 may play a role. Metastasis refers to the process by which cancers spread and while it is often extremely dangerous, scientists and doctors are still trying to understand just why and how it happens. The study was led by Dr. Paul Krebsbach, dean of UCLA's School of Dentistry and professor of periodontics.
Dr. Krebsbach’s team looked at the role of mEAK-7 in non-small cell lung cancer, gathering tumor cell genetic information from various databases in addition to using tissue samples from cancer patients. Previous studies had found that mEAK-7 expression affects cell proliferation and migration, so perhaps it is unsurprising that the researchers found the high expression of mEAK-7 in metastatic non-small cell lung cancer.
Confirming this, adds Dr. Joe Nguyen, first author and postdoctoral scholar at the National Cancer Institute, "We also discovered that mEAK-7 was expressed in primary cancer cells but not expressed in non-cancerous cells, which shows that the protein could be a key culprit in cancer metastasis."
However more exciting than this discovery, perhaps, was what the researchers found in regards to a new alternative mTOR signaling pathway. (mTOR is a gene that regulates normal cell growth, proliferation and survival and two mTOR signaling pathways have already been discovered.)
"This third complex or pathway is very important for cancer stem cells, which begin the process of colony formation and cell proliferation, and lead to metastasis that is the leading cause of death in most cancers," Krebsbach said. "We determined that there are high mEAK-7 protein levels in the tumors and lymph nodes of metastatic cancer patients. [Therefore, the] development of mEAK-7 inhibitors may benefit patients with metastatic cancers that demonstrate aberrant mTOR signaling associated with high levels of mEAK-7."
The researchers say that this discovery is significant to the development of future treatments for patients with metastatic cancers. "Understanding the molecular interactions of metastatic cancer is crucial to determining treatments for cancer at these later stages," said co-author Jin Koo Kim. "Currently, treatments for solid tumors include surgery and radiation therapies. However, many patients relapse, as the target tumors develop resistance to radiation and other treatments. This study found that this resistance is correlated to higher mEAK-7 expression in cancer cells."