New research offers hope of new treatments for lung and esophageal cancers

Researchers at Okayama University have reportedly discovered a potential new treatment for lung and esophageal cancer.

Most cancer-related deaths world-wide are caused by lung cancer, which is rarely diagnosed early.  The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is still only 55% for cases detected when the disease is still localized (within the lungs), but only 16% of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at his stage.  Where the tumour has spread to other organs, the 5 year survival rate is only 4%.

An oncogene is a gene that has the potential to transform cells into  cancer. In tumor cells, they are often mutated and/or expressed at high levels.  The SOX2 protein is an oncogene associated with both lung and esophagal cancer.

The team of researchers led by Professor Takashi Sera from Okayama University reported in Ocotarget that they have are hopeful of finding a method for suppressing SOX2 expression in cancer cells. The scientists’ approach involves a so-called artificial transcription factor (ATF) — a protein that regulates the production of a gene — and may lead to an effective therapy for not only lung SCC but also esophageal SCC.

Initial lab tests have been promising, showing that the ATF did not affect the viability of normal human cells, and successfully suppressed the SOX2, inhibiting lung tumor growth.

Scientists are excited because the small molecular weight of ATFs will make it relatively easy to deliver them to target cells. They also note that ATFs can fuse with cell-penetrating peptides, providing a potential mechanism for the actual delivery. Moreover, this protein delivery approach is independent of cell type and there’s no risk of mutagenesis (a change in the genetic information of an organism).

Professor Sera and colleagues are hopeful that, whilst research needs to continue and certain challenges still have to be overcome, this could be an important first step in finding an effective treatment for one of the biggest killer diseases worldwide.  A spokesman said:

“We have used ATF technology to successfully suppress SCC in vitro and in vivo … as a first step in the search for an effective treatment for SCC lung and esophageal cancers.”