Chemotherapy is the most commonly prescribed treatment to slow disease growth and reduce symptoms in mesothelioma and lung cancer patients, but is often rendered ineffective when a disease becomes chemo-resistant.
Now, researchers could have identified a biomarker that “may be a target for overcoming drug resistance in cancer.” The biomarker can help doctors and researchers evaluate patient responses to cancer drugs and may lead to “new therapies directed at eradicating drug-resistant cancer cells.”
The National Cancer Institute identifies a biomarker as “a biological molecule found in blood, other body fluids, or tissues that is a sign of a normal or abnormal process, or of a condition or disease.” Biomarkers can help doctors diagnose diseases like mesothelioma, and they can also influence treatment plans.
In the study, researchers from the University of Iowa and Brigham Young University analyzed genetic changes in cancer cells in myeloma patients who had had “very intensive chemotherapy drugs.” The scientists found that these patients had a high expression of the NEK2 gene, which is “strongly associated with increased drug-resistance, faster cancer growth, and poorer survival for patients.”
Next, the researchers analyzed gene expression profiles from 2,500 patients’ cells. These patients had eight different types of cancer, including breast, lung, and bladder cancer.
“In all cases, an increase in the NEK2 gene was associated with rapid death of the patient,” says Guido Tricot, M.D., Ph.D., director of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Bone Marrow Transplant and Myeloma Program at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. “So this finding was not unique to myeloma; this is basically seen in every single cancer we looked at.”
The researchers also confirmed that silencing NEK2 in cancer cells decreases drug resistance, induces cell death, and inhibits cancer growth. This allows them to make cancer cells more sensitive to the drugs that were once ineffective.
Now, the research team is developing compounds to inhibit the gene that they hope “may overcome drug resistance in cancer cells”, and expect that their findings may have clinical use within the next several years.