Researchers have identified a protein that plays an important role in the development of stomach cancers and that could one day be a target for new treatments for the disease, according to research published (Wednesday) in the British Journal of Cancer.
Scientists based at the Chinese University of Hong Kong explored the role of a protein called RAMP in stomach cancer cell lines and tissues, finding that it is more common in these cells compared to surrounding normal tissues.
The increased presence of RAMP suggests that this protein may play a pivotal role in the multi-step development of stomach cancer. Higher levels of the protein were seen in the very early stages of stomach cancer and were also present throughout the development of the disease. To add further evidence to RAMP's role in this cancer they found that the protein also encouraged cells to grow, fuelling the disease further.
This is the first study to establish a possible link between RAMP and stomach cancer and could help doctors to gain a better understanding of the disease, leading to more effective treatments.
Next the scientists proceeded to 'knock out' RAMP's function in two human gastric cancer cell lines. This slowed down the growth of the cancer in these cell lines and even led to cell death.
It is hoped that these findings could be the first step to developing a new approach to treating stomach cancer by developing treatments that 'switch off' RAMP. This could halt the growth of these tumours and even reduce tumour size.
Study author Dr WK Leung said: "We have established for the first time the role that RAMP plays in stomach cancer. Working out a role for RAMP in stomach cancer gives us more information about the common, but poorly understood steps that lead to the development of this cancer.
"We're very excited about with these results. The next stage of our research will aim to discover more about RAMP's specific role in stomach cancer and begin exploring the possibility of developing new drugs that can stop RAMP in its tracks."
Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: "This interesting study helps us understand more about the mechanisms behind the development of stomach cancer. One of the reasons that survival rates for stomach cancers remain low is because they are often at an advanced stage when diagnosed, so making it harder to treat successfully. We welcome new research that could one day help those with stomach cancer face a better prognosis."
In the UK more than 7,700 people are diagnosed with stomach cancer each year, with 95 per cent of cases among the over 50's. Over the last 25 years five-year survival rates have tripled in the UK, but the disease remains very difficult to treat successfully and five year survival is still low at around 15 per cent.
Leung et al. Identification of retinoic acid-regulated nuclear matrix-associated protein as a novel regulator of gastric cancer. 12 August 2009 British Journal of Cancer.