The overall five-year survival rate for esophageal cancer is about 20%, but survival rates can range from 547%. When esophageal cancer is found early and when it is small, the five-year survival rate is higher. In cancers, RNA molecules are not only “turned on,” but also appear to be activated in cells that are likely to progress to cancer. In a new study, Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) School of Medicine researchers sought to determine if RNA molecules could potentially be used to detect cancers at an early stage—or even before they become cancer.

In their study, the researchers performed the first discovery and characterization of a specialized sub-class of what is known as “long intergenic” noncoding RNA molecules in esophageal malignancy. What they found: A panel of these molecules was also “turned on” in cancer tissues and in pre-malignant tissues (for example, those at high risk for becoming cancer). And these RNA molecules can be detected in patient biopsy tissues using routine imaging.

Their findings are published in Gastroenterology in an article titled, “Discovery and Initial Characterization of Long Intergenic Noncoding RNAs Associated with Esophageal Adenocarcinoma.”

More specifically, they’ve discovered that these molecules may hold promise for warning of malignancies such as esophageal cancer, where a lack of biomarkers makes it hard to detect and treat tumors early.

“Our study opens a new area of investigation by implicating these RNA molecules as additional players in esophageal cancer,” said Kishore Guda, PhD, associate professor, CWRU. “Our goal is to understand how and when these molecules are turned on during esophageal cancer development, and how they control other genes involved in cancer processes.”

With this new knowledge, the team hopes to test whether the RNA molecules can be integrated into CWRU’s EsoCheck molecular diagnostic panel—licensed to Lucid Diagnostics—for detecting cells at a high risk of becoming cancerous.

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