New biomarker linked to better outcomes of HNC

Researchers have identified a new biomarker linked to better outcomes in patients with head and neck cancer (HNC) and non-small cell lung cancer, according to a new study in Cancer (April 1, 2014).

The research from the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in Jupiter, FL, could help scientists develop new diagnostics and therapies, and help physicians determine the best long-term treatments for patients with these cancers, according to the institute.

The findings focus on a protein called choline phosphate cytidylyltransferase-α CCT-α (CCTα), an antigen that prompts the immune system to produce antibodies against it.

"Based on what we found, a high CCTα expression appears to be indicative of survival, making CCTα a promising biomarker," said study co-author Laura Niedernhofer, MD, PhD, a TSRI associate professor. "Our findings suggest that CCTα may, in fact, be more important in determining outcomes in patients with both types of cancer than the already established ERCC1."

Large clinical trials are being conducted using expression of the ERCC1 DNA-repair protein as a determinant of whether patients with esophageal, lung, pancreatic, gastric, colorectal, or ovarian cancer should be treated with platinum-based therapy, a very potent but toxic DNA-damaging agent.

However, the new research suggests that these positive results were not actually due to ERCC1, but to CCTα -- which also binds to the antibody most frequently used to measure ERCC1 expression. While ERCC1 is associated with DNA repair, CCTα is involved in the synthesis of a major component of cell membranes, active in membrane-mediated signaling and embryo survival.

The new results were based on an examination of samples from 187 patients with non-small cell lung cancer and 60 patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinomas. CCTα expression was associated with longer survival rates, including for patients with non-small cell lung cancer who were treated with surgery alone -- without the use of platinum-based chemotherapy drugs and associated toxic side effects.

The study was supported by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Head and Neck Society.

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