Nav: Home

Molecular profiling could catch lung cancer early and lead to new treatments

January 21, 2019

The world's first genetic sequencing of precancerous lung lesions could pave the way for very early detection and new treatments, reports a new study led by UCL researchers.

Before lung cancer develops, precancerous lesions are found in the airway, but only half of these will actually become lung cancer, while others will disappear or remain benign without becoming harmful. Under the microscope, the lesions look the same, making it difficult to know which lesions to treat.

In this study, published in Nature Medicine, researchers have for the first time, discovered the differences between the lesions that will become invasive and those that are harmless, and they can accurately predict which lesions will become cancerous.

"Our study helps to understand the earliest stages of lung cancer development, by figuring out what's going on inside these cells even before they become cancerous," said the study's lead author, Professor Sam Janes (UCL Division of Medicine and University College London Hospitals, UCLH).

"Using this information, we may be able to develop screening tests, and new treatments that could stop cancer in its tracks."

The researchers were studying biopsies of preinvasive lung cancer lesions of patients who were seen at UCLH. They conducted tests including gene expression profiling, methylation profiling, and whole-genome DNA sequencing on 129 biopsy samples from 85 patients.

On average, the patients were followed up for over five years post-biopsy, to see which patients developed lung squamous cell carcinoma, one of the two most common subtypes of lung cancer.

The research team identified differences in genomic features such as mutations, gene expression and chromosomal instability, finding enough differences that they could predict with near-perfect accuracy which lesions would develop into cancer by checking the lesion's molecular profile.

By identifying which precancerous lesions are harmful, the researchers say clinicians could decide whether or not to offer a patient surgery at a much earlier stage of the disease than is currently possible, while saving others with benign lesions from unnecessary surgeries.

Precancerous lesions are detected by bronchoscopy, a minimally invasive test that is often done on people with chronic cough or a history of lung cancer.

There is no consensus on treatment for precancerous lung lesions; in some countries, patients with such lesions undergo surgery, while elsewhere, patients are monitored and only treated if clear signs of cancer appear.

While bronchoscopy isn't offered to everyone at risk of lung cancer, the researchers say their findings could help to develop a simpler blood test to pick up the same molecular signals that are linked to early cancer development.

"If we can use this new understanding of cancer development to create new diagnostic tests, it may one day be invaluable in picking up cancer early, enabling people to access treatment much earlier in the disease process," said co-first author Dr Adam Pennycuick (UCL Division of Medicine).

The study could also help lead to new treatments. Some of the genes that are expressed differently in lesions that will become cancerous, have previously been identified as potential drivers of lung cancer.

"We are now continuing our research to further understand how these genes are driving cancer progression, and to see which ones could be targeted by new drug treatments," said co-first author Dr Vitor Teixeira (UCL Division of Medicine).
-end-
The study involved researchers at UCL Division of Medicine, UCL Cancer Insititute, UCLH, Wellcome Sanger Institute, Boston University, The Francis Crick Institute, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and University of St Andrews, and was supported by Wellcome, Rosetrees Trust, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, Welton Trust, Garfield Weston Trust, Stoneygate Trust, UCLH Charitable Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Stand Up to Cancer, and the University College London Hospitals National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre.

University College London

Related Lung Cancer Articles:

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.
Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.
Lung transplant patients face elevated lung cancer risk
In an American Journal of Transplantation study, lung cancer risk was increased after lung transplantation, especially in the native (non-transplanted) lung of single lung transplant recipients.
Proposed cancer treatment may boost lung cancer stem cells, study warns
Epigenetic therapies -- targeting enzymes that alter what genes are turned on or off in a cell -- are of growing interest in the cancer field as a way of making a cancer less aggressive or less malignant.
Are you at risk for lung cancer?
This question isn't only for people who've smoked a lot.
Better equipped in the fight against lung cancer
Lung cancer is the third most common type of cancer in Germany and the disease affects both men and women.
New liquid biopsy-based cancer model reveals data on deadly lung cancer
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) accounts for 14 percent of all lung cancers and is often rapidly resistant to chemotherapy resulting in poor clinical outcomes.
Cancer drug leads to 'drastic decrease' in HIV infection in lung cancer patient
Doctors in France have found the first evidence that a cancer drug may be able to eradicate HIV-infected cells in humans.
Air pollution is associated with cancer mortality beyond lung cancer
A large scale epidemiological study associates some air pollutants with kidney, bladder and colorectal cancer death.
Free lung-cancer screening in the Augusta area finds more than double the cancer rate of previous screenings
The first year of free lung cancer screening in the Augusta, Ga., area found more than double the rate seen in a previous large, national study as well as a Massachusetts-based screening for this No.
More Lung Cancer News and Lung Cancer Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Uncharted
There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#555 Coronavirus
It's everywhere, and it felt disingenuous for us here at Science for the People to avoid it, so here is our episode on Coronavirus. It's ok to give this one a skip if this isn't what you want to listen to right now. Check out the links below for other great podcasts mentioned in the intro. Host Rachelle Saunders gets us up to date on what the Coronavirus is, how it spreads, and what we know and don't know with Dr Jason Kindrachuk, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba. And...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.