British scientists have discovered a molecular "on/off switch" for certain types of ovarian and testicular cancers — a finding that could point the way to new drug treatments.
The discovery, published in the journal Cancer Research, involves so-called "malignant germ cell tumors" that develop in sperm- or egg-forming cells in the body’s reproductive organs, both in childhood and adulthood.
Researchers called the findings important because current chemotherapy treatments for such cancers, while effective, can have severe side effects, including hearing loss and damage to the kidneys, lungs, and bone marrow.
"We need new ways of treating patients with malignant germ cell tumors, to minimize the toxic effects of chemotherapy and to improve survival rates when tumors are resistant to treatment," said Nick Coleman, a professor of molecular pathology at Cambridge University who helped make the discovery. "Having identified this 'on/off' switch, it will now be important to identify new drugs that can be used to keep it in the 'off' position."
Coleman and his colleagues found that all malignant germ cell tumors contain large amounts of a protein called LIN28, which causes a chain reaction that encourages cancer growth — in effect, acting as an "on switch" that promotes malignancy. By reducing amounts of the protein LIN28, the researchers found they could essentially "turn off" tumor growth.
"The switch effect that we have discovered is present in all malignant germ cell tumors, whether they occur in males or females, young or old," said Matthew Murray, M.D. "Such a fundamental abnormality makes an excellent new target for treating these tumors."
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