A Potential New Way To Detect Lung Cancer

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine are working on a new way to detect and treat lung cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the United States. What’s worse is that it seems that some of the deaths can be prevented. About 90 percent of lung cancer deaths among men and approximately 80 percent of lung cancer deaths among women are due to smoking. If you haven’t quit yet, what are you waiting for? The NCI also estimates that approximately 373,489 Americans are living with lung cancer and its treatment costs approximately $10.3 billion in the United States each year.

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) are looking for ways to make lung cancer detection and treatment less invasive. Using RNA sequencing, the team identified a molecule that was less abundant in people with lung cancer and inhibits lung cancer cell growth.

The findings, which are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that this molecule may aid in diagnosing lung cancer in earlier stages and could potentially, when at healthy levels, aid in treating the disease.

“Our findings open up the option to study whether returning miR-4423 levels to normal in the airway could help stop cancer growth and potentially be a way to treat lung cancer,” said Catalina Perdomo, PhD, a BUSM researcher and the paper’s lead author.

MicroRNA’s are a new class of molecules classified as important regulators of the activity of other genes.

According to BUSM:

In this study, the research team used a next-generation RNA sequencing technology and identified that a microRNA named miR-4423 in epithelial airway cells plays a major role in how these cells develop. In epithelial cells from the airway of smokers with lung cancer, levels of miR-4423 were decreased.

Using experimental models in vitro and in vivo, the research team demonstrated that miR-4423 can both promote the development of the normal airway cells and suppress lung cancer cell growth. This suggests that miR-4423 plays a major regulatory role in cell fate decisions made by airway epithelial cells during maturation and low levels of miR-4423 contributes to lung cancer development. Interestingly, throughout the body, miR-4423 seems only to be present in high levels in the airway epithelium, suggesting this could be a very specific process occurring only in the lungs.

“These results suggest measuring the levels of microRNAs like miR-4423 in cells that line the airway could aid in lung cancer detection through a relatively non-invasive procedure,” said Dr. Avrum Spira, professor of medicine and chief of the division of computational biomedicine at BUSM, and one of the study’s senior authors.