Researchers identify molecule that determines if a cell will undergo cancer cell death

Lung cancer is the most common cause of death from cancer worldwide, estimated to be responsible for nearly one in five (1.59 million deaths). Whilst the most common type of lung cancer is called non small cell lung cancer.

Currently, treatments for non small cell lung cancer do not cure the cancer and it is recommended that ‘if lung cancer is found, taking part in one of the many clinical trials being done to improve treatment should be considered.’

It is then, of vital importance that more research is undertaken to find better treatments for non small cell lung cancer.  

However, the new research has provided inroads into a better understanding of what can be done to treat the cancer. The new study, undertaken at the Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts and led by Dr. Anurag Singh, has found a molecule – miR-124 – that indicates if some of the resilient cancer cells die following chemotherapy.

Some of the epithelial cells in non small cell lung cancer change into mesenchymal-type cells. The transformation into such cells, means the mesenchymal-like cells exhibit mutations in the KRAS proto-oncogene, that make it susceptible to mutations that promote the development of cancer.  

Such mesenchymal-like cells are commonly resilient and typically resist programmed cell death after chemotherapy.

Researchers found that the mIR-124 molecule can determine the programmed cell death in cells that have gone through the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transformation. The scientists were thus able to determine if such cells would respond to chemotherapy agents.

Speaking on the research, Dr. Singh said:  

"Lung cancers display widespread genetic, molecular, and phenotypic variability and heterogeneity. It is critical to understand the implications of this heterogeneity to identify effective targeted therapeutic regimens and clinical diagnostics."

"Understanding the mechanisms that are associated with phenotypic heterogeneity in lung cancer cells - specifically differences between epithelial and mesenchymal-like cells - allows these differences to be exploited to develop more selective therapeutic agents."

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