Potential new target for stomach cancer therapy

It started several years ago with the observation that a large group of seemingly unconnected genes were behaving differently in patients with stomach cancer.

Now a multi-national research team led by the Melbourne Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR) has joined the proverbial dots and identified a potential new target for stomach cancer therapy, according to a paper published in Nature Medicine.

The paper's first author, LICR's Dr. Brendan Jenkins, says that this single study has made several substantial contributions to the understanding of Stat3, the protein linking those 'genes behaving badly' and central to development, tissue equilibrium and the immune system. "We showed that, in mice, hyperactive Stat3 shuts down a vital controller of stomach cell growth, called TGF beta, and this allows cancer formation, and this mechanistic link is a world-first. Also, the gene differences identified in human stomach cancers are similar to those we would predict if the same thing, Stat3 hyperactivity shutting down TGF, happens in humans. So this is also the first time a connection between stomach cancer and this signaling pathway has been made."

Team leader Dr. Matthias Ernst, also from LICR, says that these basic research findings may one day impact directly on the treatment of stomach and other cancers. "We've demonstrated that by lowering Stat3 hyperactivity we can suppress stomach cancer formation, importantly without affecting Stat3's other important roles in the body. Add to that the evidence suggesting that Stat3 is also involved in breast, head and neck, and prostate cancers, and we have a compelling case for investigating the development of therapies that target Stat3."

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