Researchers Believe Low Oxygen Levels Spur Cancer Growth and Should be the Target for New Mesothelioma Treatments
Researchers across the world have focused their efforts on developing targeted cancer treatments that center on getting to the specific gene or biomarker responsible for a particular cancer. In fact, an alphabet soup of biomarkers, including Abcc10, VEGF, miRNA, and HER2, that indicate mesothelioma have been used to develop cancer treatments to fight the deadly disease. However, according to a recent study, researchers should focus their efforts on patient oxygen levels instead of biomarkers to combat the cancer.
Researchers at the University of Georgia believe that low levels of oxygen in cancer patients drives uncontrollable tumor growth in many cancers, and that it is this hypoxia that prevents cancers from responding to many cancer treatments that target biomarkers to kill cancer cells.
Ying Xu, Regents-Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and professor of bioinformatics and computational biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and lead researcher, points out that previous studies have linked hypoxia, or low oxygen levels, in cells as a contributing factor in cancer development. But this study points to hypoxia as the primary driving force for cancer growth.
“Cancer drugs try to get to the root — at the molecular level — of a particular mutation, but the cancer often bypasses it,” said Xu. “So we think that possibly genetic mutations may not be the main driver of cancer.”
In the study, Xu and his team looked at the gene HIF1A as a biomarker of the amount of molecular oxygen in a cell. They found that low levels of oxygen in cancer cells lead to more blood vessel growth to drive up oxygen levels, which in turn, provides more food to the cancer cells causing them to grow. As the tumor grows the oxygen levels further decline, thus, leading to a vicious cycle of increased blood vessels and tumor growth. “This could be a key driver of cancer,” Xu said.
Xu believes it is this “vicious cycle” of tumor growth, driven by low oxygen levels, that leads to so many cancers becoming drug resistant so quickly. If the model holds, the Georgia researchers concluded, “Researchers will need to search for methods to prevent hypoxia in cells in the first place, which could result in a sea of change in cancer treatment.”
Mesothelioma is an incurable, asbestos-caused cancer of the membranes that surround many of the body’s vital organs. The most common form, as many as eighty percent of all diagnoses, is pleural mesothelioma, where the cancer attacks the pleural tissue surrounding the lung. The cancer is highly aggressive and is resistant to many cancer treatments making it a difficult disease to treat effectively. Thus a new, effective treatment for the cancer is vital for improving survival rates for patients.