A newly identified oesophageal cancer gene opens the door to hope for new treatments to the particularly hard to fight disease. Up to 15% of those diagnosed with oesophageal cancer are believed by researchers would be helped by drug therapies based on their discovery.

Due to advances in DNA sequencing, researchers are progressively more able to identify genes associated with diseases. Regrettably, more often than not the function of the gene is unknown, making it difficult to develop a treatment based on the discovery.

In this new research, scientists from the University of Cambridge discovered that the TRIM44 gene play a key role in the development of oesophageal cancer. Not only that, but also they discovered how the gene drives the disease.

Their research shows that over-expression, which is when there are multiple copies, of TRIM44 leads to higher activity of the mTOR gene. The mTOR gene regulates cell growth and division, processes that become uncontrolled in cancer.

New Treatments within the next Five Years

“We know how effective treatments targeting the over-expression of genes can be – just look at the success of Herceptin for breast and stomach cancer,” said Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, lead author. “As there are already a number of drugs which target mTOR, we are hopeful that our discovery could lead to new treatments within the next five years."

The team has already established that when they treat tumours in mice which are over-expressing TRIM44 with mTOR inhibitors, they reduced in size. Fascinatingly, they have also done the same experiments with cells from human breast cancers, and found the same results, indicating that these findings could also be applied to other cancers.

“For cancer of the oesophagus,” said Professor Fitzgerald, “and other cancers such as breast cancer, when the TRIM44 gene is over-expressed, it can also be used to indicate the likely response of an individual to an mTOR inhibitor drug. By tailoring the treatment to the individual, we increase the chance that it will be effective at fighting the disease."

Not many people are aware of cancer of the oesophagus, and symptoms are frequently overlooked. Consequently, the disease is often at an advanced stage when it is diagnosed. Only around 15% of people diagnosed with oesophageal cancer are alive after five years.


Amplification of TRIM44: Pairing a Prognostic Target With Potential Therapeutic Strategy Chin-Ann Johnny Ong, Nicholas B. Shannon, Caryn S. Ross-Innes,Maria O’Donovan, Oscar M. Rueda, De-en Hu, Mikko I. Kettunen,Christina Elaine Walker, Ayesha Noorani, Richard H. Hardwick, Carlos Caldas,Kevin Brindle and Rebecca C. Fitzgerald JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst (2014)dju050doi: 10.1093/jnci/dju050

_ Image Credit: Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald and Dr Johnny Ong_

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