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Major breakthrough

Promising discovery for patients undergoing lung cancer treatment

By Jeff Green

A researcher in the Faculty of Medicine is part of a group that has made a significant finding in its study of lung cancer.

Dr. Michael Leitges, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Cell Signaling and Translational Medicine at Memorial, and a team from the Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus say they can now distinguish between two pathways where lung adenocarcinoma – the most common and a deadly type of lung cancer – can develop.

The group’s findings were recently published in the journal Cancer Cell.

According to the U.S.-based National Cancer Institute, lung adenocarcinoma is responsible for about four out of 10 diagnoses.

Increasing treatment success

“The discovery could help future patients since a more precise diagnosis enables the clinician to decide on a treatment that is supposed to be more effective on tumours with a specific origin,” said Dr. Leitges.

“Thus the perspective is that tumours can be better classified and subsequent treatment becomes optimized, thereby increasing the success of the treatment.”

In addition to Dr. Leitges, the team includes the Mayo Clinic’s Drs. Alan Fields, cancer biologist, the study’s senior author and the Monica Flynn Jacoby Professor of Cancer Research; Ning Yin, lead author of the study; Yi Liu; Andras Khoor; Xue Wang; E. Aubrey Thompson; Verline Justilien; Nicole Murray; and Capella Weems.

As part of the research that led to this latest finding, the team examined the molecular features of lung adenocarcinoma in mice.

“The perspective is that tumours can be better classified and subsequent treatment becomes optimized, thereby increasing the success of the treatment.” — Dr. Michael Leitges

Dr. Leitges says they were able to discover two ways lung adenocarcinoma develops.

“Either involve protein kinase C iota (PKCiota) – a cancer-causing gene – or are independent of PKCiota,” he explained.

“In general, this study represents an excellent example of how basic cancer research can result in a promising drug target (PKCiota) and potentially lead to a better therapy.”

Dr. Leitges says the team is now trying to identify new drugs that may be able to inhibit the growth of lung cancer and potentially other types of cancer.

CRC research

Earlier this year, Dr. Leitges was named one of Memorial’s newest Canada Research Chairs.

He joined the Faculty of Medicine from Norway’s University of Oslo.

At Memorial, he is establishing a new laboratory and research program aimed at identifying new drugs for cancer treatment with less side effects, very similar to the approach used for PKCiota.

“This new project also initiated from basic cancer research and already has identified potential drug targets that are involved in fundamental processes of cell survival. This will now be further analyzed by animal models and eventually lead to screening for new drugs that intervene with these processes.”

The research with the Mayo Clinic was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Monica Flynn Jacoby Professor of Cancer Research endowment fund, a Mayo Clinic Center for Biomedical Discovery Career Development Award and the Edward C. Kendall Fellowship in Biochemistry from the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

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