By Mark FagotThe world of cancer treatments is rife with jargon, so it’s no surprise that scientists have been working on a better way to define the disease.
But the question of how to classify a disease has been a major stumbling block, and there are few if any guidelines on what constitutes a “cancer”, according to the journal Cell.
Researchers from the University of California, Irvine (UCLA) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) published a study in the journal Science that shows a better understanding of what makes a cancerous cell can help scientists develop a better vaccine.
The researchers used a method called cryo-EM in which a person’s blood is frozen and pumped into a machine, allowing the person to see how the body processes certain molecules.
The research team looked at a person with a rare form of lung cancer called cystic fibrosis (CF).
Their study looked at two genes that control how fibroblast growth and development.
They discovered the genes are part of a family called CNR2.
This family is found on chromosome 5p15, which is linked to other genes.
“What we found was a significant reduction in the amount of CNR1 in the tumour cells,” said co-author of the study Dr. Anil Bhattacharjee.
“There was no change in the number of CF patients with a normal copy of the gene, and so we assumed that these CF patients had the same mutation, but they had a different CNR mutation,” said Bhattatkarjee.
The CF patient who developed cystic flutter also had a lower mutation in a gene called Cnr2, which was associated with CF.
“This was a very interesting finding because it showed that we could see that this mutation can affect the way the CF cells are developing,” said Dr. Steven Warshaw, a senior author on the paper.
In the study, the researchers looked at the CF patient’s CF-negative lung cells, which are the most common type of CF.
When they were frozen, the cells were taken from the CF-positive patient and put in a centrifuge.
They then looked at how the CF patients cells responded to a particular toxin, known as COX-2.
Warshaw said the study was not a conclusive finding, but it suggested there might be a better approach for determining the risk of CF, than using a person to generate a sample.
“The real hope is that we will be able to make that vaccine out of this,” said Warshaws co-lead author of the paper, Dr. Thomas Schulte.
The study showed that the CF mutation has a major effect on the CF cell’s ability to grow, but there was no correlation between the CF mutagen and the CF tumor.
“We are looking at a genetic disease, which means it’s a disease that is not specific to a single individual, and we know it’s not specific for any single gene,” said Schultes co-director of the UC Irvine Center for Molecular Biology and Genomics.
The other group of CF researchers also found a significant decrease in CF patients’ CF-related mutations, but the mutation in the CF gene did not affect the patients’ cancer-fighting ability.
“If we are going to go after CF patients, we need to identify them early and target the genes at the earliest stage, so we can find those CF mutations and use them to target the cells that are causing these mutations,” said study co-leader Dr. Jonathan Schatz, who also is a UC Irvine professor of molecular biology.
“Our research has shown that these genes do affect the cells, and in some cases, they have a significant effect,” Schatz said.
However, the study only looked at CF patients.
“We can’t say whether the mutation is affecting CF or not, but we can say that we have a better idea of what the risk is,” said the lead author Dr. Susan Loomis, a professor of pathology at UC Irvine.
Schatz and Bhattatsarjee said it’s too early to say if a vaccine will be effective, but in the meantime, scientists at the UCI and NCI have launched an initiative called Cytotoxicity in Cancer, aimed at identifying and developing drugs that can target CF mutations.