Gene fault leads to 'much nastier' lung cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

US researchers studying the genetics of lung cancer in mice have found one of the genes that can lead to highly aggressive disease.

Using strains of specially bred 'knock-out' mice, scientists had previously found that those mice lacking key 'tumour suppressor' genes were more susceptible to cancer.

In a new series of experiments, researchers from Dana-Farber, Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, crossed several of these strains with another strain that lacked another tumour suppressor gene - LKB1.

The 'double knock-out' mice that resulted developed highly aggressive lung cancers that grew and spread rapidly.

The findings suggest that the development of faults in LKB1 is a key event in the progression of lung cancer.

The team then looked at human lung cancer samples, and found faults in LKB1 in a significant proportion of them, suggesting the finding was relevant in humans.

Senior author Dr Kwok-Kin Wong, a researcher at Dana-Farber and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, commented: "The LKB1-deficient tumours grew more rapidly and spread more frequently than the others. "We were surprised at how significant a role LKB1 mutations play in non-small cell lung cancer development in mice," he continued. "We're currently examining whether these results apply to human lung cancers as well and, if so, how such information can improve treatment." Senior author Dr Norman Sharpless, assistant professor of medicine and genetics in the UNC School of Medicine, said that defects in LKB1 "appear to result in a much nastier form of lung cancer". "Clearly mice with lung cancers harbouring LKB1 mutations do much worse than those with other types of cancers," he continued. "However, we still do not know what this gene does.

"This mouse model will enable us to determine how this gene is important for lung cancer and to develop therapies targeted in a way that can help human patients." Dr Kat Arney, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is an interesting finding that may help to explain why some lung cancers spread aggressively through the body.

"It's too early to tell if this discovery will have an impact on the way that people with lung cancer are treated, but it certainly helps to advance our understanding of this disease."