Newly-discovered gene linked to oesophageal cancer leads to potential new treatments

A newly-discovered gene linked to oesophageal cancer holds the promise of new treatments for this notoriously difficult-to-fight disease.

Researchers at Cambridge University in the UK have found a gene called TRIM44 which plays a key role in the development of oesophageal cancer. The discovery of this gene has also led to finding the disease’s key driver.

The new research has revealed that when multiple copies (called over-expressions) of the TRIM44 gene are found in a patient this leads to higher activity of the mTOR gene, which regulates cell growth and division – a process that, when uncontrolled, can lead to cancer.

“We know how effective treatments targeting the over-expression of genes can be – just look at the success of Herceptin for breast and stomach cancer,” said Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, lead author of the research from the MRC Cancer Unit at the University of Cambridge.

Pre-clinical trials have already found that treating tumours with an over-expression of TRIM44 with mTOR inhibitors causes the tumours to reduce in size.

Additionally, researchers performed the same experiments with cells from human breast cancers, and found the same results, indicating that these findings could be applied to other cancers.

“As there are already a number of drugs which target mTOR, we are hopeful that our discovery could lead to new treatments within the next five years,” said Professor Fitzgerald.

“For cancer of the oesophagus, and other cancers such as breast cancer, when the TRIM44 gene is over-expressed, it can also be used to indicate the likely response of an individual to an mTOR inhibitor drug. By tailoring the treatment to the individual, we increase the chance that it will be effective at fighting the disease.”

There are over 1,200 cases of oesophageal cancer every year in Australia.

This study has been published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.