Oncology Central

Removal of FAK shows promise in increasing the effectiveness of radiotherapy and chemotherapy

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Researchers at Barts Cancer Institute have found that targeting a molecule in blood vessels has the potential of making cancer therapy more effective

A group of Cancer Research UK scientists working at Barts Cancer Institute (London, UK), through their research, have potentially found a reason for how and why healthy bodily cells are protecting tumor cells from cancer treatments. The set of researchers at Barts Cancer Institute, part of the Queen Mary University of London (UK), have concluded that the molecule, called focal adhesion kinase (FAK), is responsible for sending signals to help place cancer’s barrier against treatment.

When the researchers removed FAK from the blood vessels that grew in melanoma or lung cancer models, the results showed a dramatic increase in the effectiveness of both chemotherapy and radiotherapy in killing the tumors.

The team furthered their initial investigation by studying samples from lymphoma patients. These results highlighted a strong correlation between patients with low levels of FAK and those who were more likely for complete remission of cancer symptoms after the treatment.

This work suggests that developing a drug to target FAK in blood vessels may prove effective in boosting cancer treatments and preventing cancer from redeveloping.

Cells that line the blood vessels send chemical signals (cytokines) to the tumor and mistakenly protect the cancer from the killing effects of chemotherapy. FAK is necessary for those cells to send the signals and eliminating FAK leaves the cancer vulnerable to cancer treatment as the signals are never sent.

Bernado Tavora, lead author on the paper from the Barts Cancer Institute, commented: “This work shows that sensitivity to cancer treatment is related to our own body mistakenly trying to shield the cancer from cell-killing effects caused by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Although taking out FAK from blood vessels won’t destroy the cancer by itself, it can remove the barrier cancer uses to protect itself from treatment.”

Dr Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK’s science communications manager, commented: “This exciting research may have cracked how healthy cells in the blood vessels are protecting against cancer treatments. This research was only done in mice, but it gives real hope that we can boost the effectiveness of cancer medicine and sensitize cancers to the drugs we have.”

Source: Cancer Research UK press release

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