Identifying the appropriate genetic sequences to accurately predict the onset or progression of disease lies at the center of biomarker technology. These gene targets are especially significant for the diagnosis and tracking of various cancers, and scientists are always on the hunt to discover better prognostic biomarkers to give them an edge in combating these maladies.
Now, researchers from Georgia State University, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, have discovered gene targets that may enable alternative treatments or the future design of new drugs that target metastasis-promoting tumor genes.
The metastatic spread of cancer cells from the primary occurrence site to secondary tissues contributes to a reduced or limited response of cancer cells to treatment, often resulting in death. For example, cancer cells initially grown in the lungs can begin to spread to other organs, including the brain and liver.
Additionally, gynecologic cancers, such as endometrial and ovarian cancer, typically originate in the reproductive organs but are hallmarked by high rates of metastasis. Survival rates are generally very poor for these cancer types, with limited response to existing therapies. Moreover, a primary reason for poor survival rates is late diagnoses, by which time the cancer cells have spread to secondary sites.
“The aim of our study was to investigate/search for gene targets that provide meaningful information on the tendency of cancer cells to spread to secondary sites,” explained senior study author Imoh Okon, Ph.D., assistant professor of research in the Center for Molecular and Translational Medicine at Georgia State University. “In this study, we found that enhanced neuropilin-1 (NRP-1) and neural precursor cell- expressed developmentally down-regulated 9 (NEDD9) levels in endometrial and lung cancer positively correlated with metastasis, while liver kinase B1 (LKB1) inhibited the migration of cancer cells.”
The findings from this study were published recently in Oncotarget through an article entitled “Aberrant NRP-1 expression serves as predicator of metastatic endometrial and lung cancers.”
In the current study, the investigators were able to obtain more than a hundred clinical endometrial cancer specimens and matching serum. Using multiplex arrays and a variety of experimental approaches, they analyzed the samples for gene targets that positively or negatively correlated with tumor metastatic potential. Subsequently, the data was translated to reflect the patient's age at diagnosis, disease stage, grade, and histology.
“Our research provides strong translational potential with respect to biomarkers that play critical roles in the development of endometrial/lung tumors,” noted Dr. Okon. “The ability to identify, characterize, and validate gene targets that strongly associate or correlate with disease development or metastasis will facilitate early detection and appropriate treatments to tackle the disease at an early stage or before metastasis occurs.”
Dr. Okon and his team are looking toward the future with the expansion of the biomarkers identified in this study to other cancer types, especially breast cancer, due to the hormonal input that is a common factor in gynecologic tumors.
Positive identification of biomarkers in other cancer types will facilitate further characterization and validation to provide a mechanistic understanding of how and why these particular gene targets become modulated to accentuate or inhibit tumor metastasis.