Scientists have found that a gene that controls brain growth and development is heavily involved in promoting the most common form of kidney cancer, a finding that could lead to new strategy to treat the disease.
The study by researchers from Mayo Clinic in Florida shows that the gene NPTX2, plays an essential role in clear cell renal cell carcinoma, which is resistant to common chemotherapy and has a five-year overall survival rate of less than 10 per cent in patients with metastatic disease.
The study not only shows that NPTX2 is active in kidney cancer, but is the first to reveal that the gene is over-expressed in any human cancer. The researchers are now looking whether NPTX2 may act in other cancers.
“We found that a gene known to play a role in the healthy brain is also the No 1 gene associated with this most lethal of all urological cancers,” said the study’s senior investigator and molecular biologist John A Copland.
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“We also have very promising ideas about how to attack the NPTX2 protein – which may provide a much-needed new strategy to treat this kidney cancer,” said Copland.
Because the NPTX2 gene is not expressed in normal kidney tissue, a drug designed to target its protein would provide a highly focused treatment, Copland said. The team is working on several different approaches to an NPTX2 inhibitor.
Lead author Christina von Roemeling, a graduate student at Mayo Clinic, used genomic profiling of nearly 100 kidney cancer patient samples to identify genes that were either over-expressed or under-expressed as compared to patient matched normal kidney tissue samples.
Von Roemeling and the research team then individually silenced each of the top 200 altered genes to see the effect on tumour growth.
They found 31 genes were important to growth of the cancer or its ability to survive, and from this group they determined NPTX2 was a key gene to cancer viability.
The study was published in the journal Cancer Research.