A New Target for Metastatic Lung Cancer, and Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Last Week in Medicine

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Lung cancer is a type of cancer that is prone to metastasis. There are risk factors that can cause metastasis, but what they are for lung cancer is not yet known. In a new study published in the Science, researchers discovered a new polymorphism that could be one of the risk factors.

Thanks to the Human Genome Project, we can see single letter changes in our genetic code. These changes are called single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP). To find the genetic basis of a disease, scientists try to find common SNPs that they think are related to that disease in large groups of patients. This study applied the same method for metastasis in lung cancer.

There is a protein that inhibits metastasis already known for lung cancer: Breast cancer Metastasis Suppressor 1 (BRMS1). Liu et al. searched for SNPs on this protein and discovered a new one they found to increase the risk of metastasis: rs1052566. They showed that the mutation due to this SNP suppresses the function of the BRMS1 protein, furthermore, it causes activation of the c-fos proto-oncogene and promotes metastasis.

The researchers took their findings further and tried treating mice with tetracycline, a c-fos inhibitor used to treat arthritis. They found that this treatment prevented metastases.

With this study, Liu et al. showed a polymorphism that predisposes to metastasis in lung adenocarcinoma, determined the pathophysiology of this mutation at the cellular level, and showed that tetracycline was effective in reducing metastases. This treatment method, which can reduce the risk of metastasis in patients with SNP named rs1052566, may soon find a place in daily medical practice.

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine reward for this year has been awarded for geneticist Svante Pääbo, for his sequencing for the Neanderthal genome and the discovery of Denisovans.

I recommend reading this comprehensive Nature article about his discovery. Or watch him getting tossed into a pond.

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