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S'pore researchers identify aggressive cancer biomarker
Publication Date : 07-08-2013
Getting cancer patients the right treatment early can mean the difference between life and death. Now, Singaporean researchers have found another way for doctors to do this.
The team from the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research has done this by pinpointing a biomarker known as PRL-3.
High levels of this harmful protein in aggressive cancer cells indicate an increased presence of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), another harmful protein.
So drugs which suppress EGFR work better on patients showing high levels of PRL-3. In the process, the drugs also suppress PRL-3, which depends on EGFR to thrive.
Patients with low levels of PRL-3 who do not respond as well can consider other treatments such as chemotherapy.
"This... has revealed a vulnerable spot of aggressive cancers and brought new hope of treating PRL-3-driven cancers successfully," said lead scientist Associate Professor Zeng Qi.
Colorectal, lung, liver and breast cancer victims could all benefit from the IMCB team's findings, which were featured on the cover of this month's Journal Of Clinical Investigation.
Tests on pre-existing clinical data of colorectal cancer patients with the help of the National Unversity Health System corroborated the scientists' findings.
Out of more than 300 patients, those found with higher levels of PRL-3 responded three times better to the treatment than those with low levels.
Currently, cancer patients may opt for EGFR inhibitor drugs without knowing exactly how effective they would be.
For those with low PRL-3, they would "most of the time be wasting their effort," said Professor Chng Wee Joo, a senior consultant in haematology-oncology at the National University Cancer Institute, who conducted the tests.
"Researchers are desperately trying to find biomarkers (like this) to tell us if a patient will respond to treatment or not," he said.
Research worldwide has uncovered a number of other cancer biomarkers, but not all are in clinical use. Zeng aims to produce a diagnostic kit within two years that can detect PRL-3 levels in just two hours. Now, it takes two days through a tumour biopsy.
"I have dreamt of this for a long time," she said. "Cancer is a feared disease that everybody knows. I really want to do something to stop it."