CWRU researchers identify genetic markers of 'aggressive' esophageal cancer, study says
Case Western Reserve University researchers believe they may have made a breakthrough in treating a particularly aggressive, deadly form of cancer that affects and kills thousands of Americans every year.
In an article published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Gastroenterology, researchers said they’ve discovered biomarkers in throat cells that may help predict whether a person will develop esophageal cancer in the future.
Scientists said they looked at a type of human gene that, while it makes up a large share of human genetic material, is poorly understood.
“Ninety-eight percent of the human genome, it's kind of like dark matter,” lead researcher Kishore Guda said. "There is constantly messaging going out, but nobody knows what those messages are."
The study specifically examined Ribonucleic acid (RNA). RNA tells amino acids what order to arrange in to create proteins and carries genetic information in all living cells.
The researchers discovered that a section of RNA molecules was “turned on” in cancer tissues and in pre-malignant tissues, those at a high risk for becoming cancer. And these RNA molecules can be detected in patient biopsy tissues using routine imaging.
Those RNA molecules may also provide new opportunities for therapeutic targeting of cancers, the authors concluded.
Guda added greater understanding of the role of these genomes in esophageal cancer could lead to breakthroughs in treating or even preventing other types of cancers.
"These molecules can, in general, play a role in other cancer types," he said.
The hope is that doctors can use genetic testing to recognize and remove pre-cancerous growths before they turn into esophageal cancer.
Such preemptive measures are crucial as this type of cancer is resistant to treatment, Guda said.
"Even if you nuke them... with the radiation or chemotherapy, these cancer cells are so nasty," he said, adding they're also highly resistant to treatment.
Preventing the onset of this type of cancer is also important because of the rate at which it kills, Guda said. Only 20% of individuals live five years after diagnosis.
Over the next year, researchers will work to confirm whether current testing methods can collect pre-cancerous cells, he said.