New genes and natural toxins offer hope for cancer patients unresponsive to chemotherapy

Scientists at Queen Mary University of London have uncovered two novel genes linked to chemotherapy resistance in head and neck cancer patients. In a breakthrough discovery, these genes, NEK2 and INHBA, were found to be active in various human cancer types, hinting at wider implications for cancer treatment.

Furthermore, the researchers delved into a chemical library typically employed in drug development. In this exploration, they identified two substances capable of specifically targeting these genes. Remarkably, these substances can enhance the sensitivity of drug-resistant cancer cells to cisplatin, a common chemotherapy drug, by nearly 30-fold. By reducing the expression of these genes, these substances could potentially be administered alongside existing chemotherapy regimens like cisplatin. Intriguingly, one of these substances, Sirodesmin A, is derived from a fungus, while the other, Carfilzomib, originates from a bacterium. This discovery suggests the potential repurposing of existing drugs to combat new disease causes, a cost-effective alternative to developing entirely new medications.

This groundbreaking research, led by Queen Mary University and published in Molecular Cancer, provides the initial evidence of NEK2 and INHBA genes driving chemoresistance in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Significantly, silencing these genes has the potential to reverse chemoresistance to multiple drugs.

Dr. Muy-Teck Teh, the senior author of the study from Queen Mary University of London, hailed these results as a promising stride towards personalized cancer treatments tailored to individual patients’ genes and tumor types. This approach holds the promise of significantly improving survival rates and treatment outcomes.

Head and neck cancers, known as HNSCCs, are responsible for 90% of all cases in this category and are closely associated with tobacco and alcohol consumption. Annually, there are 12,422 new head and neck cancer cases. Unfortunately, patients diagnosed with advanced HNSCC have an overall 5-year survival rate of less than 25%. One primary factor contributing to this grim statistic is treatment failure due to chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy resistance.

Notably, unlike patients with lung and breast cancers who receive treatment tailored to their specific cancer genetics, HNSCC patients generally undergo similar treatment combinations, regardless of their cancer’s genetic makeup.

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