Investigators hope blocking gene will boost effectiveness of treatments against aggressive tumors.

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers claim the tumor-associated gene known as astrocyte elevated gene-1 (AEG-1) is also involved in protecting cancer cells from destruction by chemotherapy. They hope their findings, reported in the November 22 online early edition of PNAS, will mean that future technology capable of inhibiting or silencing the gene could help boost the effectiveness of treatments for aggressive tumors characterized by high expression of AEG-1.

AEG-1 is already known to contribute directly to cancer cell survival, chemotherapeutic drug resistance, and tumor cell progression through its regulation of a number of intracellular processes, reports the VCU team, led by Paul B. Fisher, Ph.D., Thelma Newmeyer Corman endowed chair in cancer research at VCU Massey Cancer Center. The researchers’ newly reported study, however, has uncovered a previously unknown role for the gene in the regulation of protective autophagy, which prevents cancer cells from being destroyed by drugs or environmental attack. They claim this role played by AEG-1 may contribute to its tumor-promoting properties and identifies protective autophagy as a contributing factor in the gene’s chemoresistance activity.

“Understanding how AEG-1 promotes resistance to chemotherapy and enhances cancer cell survival may lead to treatments that inhibit this gene and its regulated pathways, thereby uncovering potentially new therapeutic targets that can be exploited to enhance the ability of anticancer drugs to fight tumors,” Dr. Fisher claims. “The potential for translating these findings into beneficial approaches for patients is major, particularly for patients with aggressive cancers that are difficult to treat because of resistance to current therapies.”

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