A class of molecules called microRNAs may offer cancer patients two ways to combat their disease.
Researchers at Princeton University have found that microRNAs - small bits of genetic material capable of repressing the expression of certain genes - may serve as both therapeutic targets and predictors of metastasis, or a cancer's spread from its initial site to other parts of the body. The research was published in the journal Cancer Cell.
MicroRNAs are specifically useful for tackling bone metastasis, which occurs in about 70 percent of patients with late-stage cancer, said senior author Yibin Kang, Princeton's Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Molecular Biology. During bone metastasis, tumors invade the bone and take over the cells known as osteoclasts that normally break down old bone material as new material grows. These cells then go into overdrive and dissolve the bone far more quickly than they would during normal bone turnover, which leads to bone lesions, bone fracture, nerve compression and extreme pain.
"The tumor uses the osteoclasts as forced labor," explained Kang, who is a member of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and adviser to Brian Ell, a graduate student in the Princeton Department of Molecular Biology and first author on the study. Kang and Ell worked with scientists at the IRCCS Scientific Institute of Romagna for the Study and Treatment of Cancer in Meldola, Italy, and the University Cancer Center in Hamburg, Germany. In this video, Ell describes his research on using small RNAs for treating and monitoring bone metastasis.