Researchers have found a mechanism of a key protein that supports the progression and relapse of cancer. This discovery provides hope for improved treatment options that focus on targeting stem-like cells that are more susceptible to chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Their findings are published in the journal PNAS.
"We discovered a mechanism involving MBNL1 protein that predicts several characteristics of cancer such as progression and relapse," said lead author Dr. Debleena Ray, Senior Research Fellow at Duke-NUS' Cancer and Stem Cell Biology (CSCB) program. "We found that MBNL1 protein is present in low amounts in many of the common cancers in the world, including breast, colorectal, stomach, lung and prostate cancers, which when combined account for about 49% of all cancers diagnosed in 2018. This can cause poor overall survival in many of these commonly-occurring cancers."
Cancer is the second-highest leading cause of death globally and cancer cases are on the rise. Professor Patrick Casey, Senior Vice Dean for Research at Duke-NUS, explains why this finding is so critical:
"Cancer is a global health challenge and Singapore is no exception. This study provides important information about novel targets and biomarkers that are implicated in several major cancers, which could lead to the development of new treatment strategies that can improve the lives of patients."
In addition to the discovery of this mechanism, the team also identified that reversing the mechanism resulted in the inhibition of the JNK protein in cancer cells with low levels of MBNL1. JNK is known to be an established target in certain cancer treatments.
"While JNK inhibitors have been tested as a cancer drug previously, currently there are no clinical trials for the same. However, if in the future there is a JNK inhibitor against cancer, MBNL1 could be used as a biomarker to select patients for the treatment," said co-corresponding author David Epstein at the Duke-NUS' CSCB program.
The researchers plan to continue their investigations of MBNL1 and JNK involving antisense technology, a tool that is used for the inhibition of gene expression.