A research team led by specialists at A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) is attempting to learn more about lung cancer, approaches to counteract and treat it, and how to give the best care to those diagnosed with the condition.
The team recently discovered a group of small RNA molecules, called oncomiRs, which are involved in the development of lung cancer and that may help researchers better understand treatment resistance and offer new therapeutic approaches.
The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications in an article titled “Tumour-initiating cell-specific miR-1246 and miR-1290 expression converge to promote non-small cell lung cancer progression.”
One of the major reasons for disease relapse in patients with lung cancer is the presence of rare cancer stem cells inside tumors that are resistant to therapies. The primary drivers of these cancer stem cells are oncomiRs. Therefore, therapies that are able to block the action of oncomiRs could represent a new way to ultimately eliminate cancer stem cells.
Researchers found that two RNA molecules in particular, miR-1246 and miR-1290, were critical drivers for cancer development and disease progression in human non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
They used locked nucleic acid (LNA), a new class of therapeutic agents which can counteract oncomiRs in cancer stem cells. The team found that LNA could successfully obliterate the growth of human lung tumors in mouse models.
Based on their findings, the team is now planning to collaborate with pharmaceutical companies to develop an appropriate drug that can be used in humans.
Researchers also discovered it was possible to detect miR-1246 and miR-1290 in the blood of patients through liquid biopsies, a method that is less invasive and less time-consuming than tissue biopsies.
In addition, the levels of these oncomiRs in the blood were found to be indicative of how well a patient would respond to conventional therapies or succumb to the disease. This finding suggested that screening oncomiR levels in real-time in the blood of patients receiving standard-of-care treatment, could allow the monitoring of the patient’s response and potentially predict any metastasis or recurrence.
“We are interested in developing this detection method into a companion diagnostic that can improve disease tracking and provide real-time information on tumor progression,” Dr. Tam Wai Leong, the study’s co-lead author and senior research scientist of cancer therapeutics and stratified oncology at GIS, said in a press release.
“In addition, we hope to be able to overcome the clinical problem of tumors which develop resistance to therapy by understanding the key drivers of lung cancer, so as to develop new ways to improve the durability of patient response and improve health outcomes,” Tam added.
“Targeting the most recalcitrant cells in a tumor allows us to attack the root cause of cancer,” said Prof. Ng Huck Hui, executive director of GIS. “It is crucial to understand the way diseases like cancer progress. This will enable scientists and oncologists to improve patient stratification, and to develop therapeutic methods that are targeted, precise, and can reach tumors in the quickest time possible.”