Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Community
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Biologists ID New Cancer Weakness

Published: Monday, November 18, 2013
Last Updated: Monday, November 18, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Drugs that block new target gene could make many tumors more vulnerable to chemotherapy.

About half of all cancer patients have a mutation in a gene called p53, which allows tumors to survive and continue growing even after chemotherapy severely damages their DNA.

A new study from MIT biologists has found that tumor cells with mutated p53 can be made much more vulnerable to chemotherapy by blocking another gene called MK2. In a study of mice, tumors lacking both p53 and MK2 shrank dramatically when treated with the drug cisplatin, while tumors with functional MK2 kept growing after treatment.

The findings suggest that giving cancer patients a combination of a DNA-damaging drug and an MK2 inhibitor could be very effective, says Michael Yaffe, the David H. Koch Professor in Science and senior author of a paper describing the research in the Nov. 14 issue of the journal Cell Reports.

Several drugs that inhibit MK2 are now in clinical trials to treat inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and colitis, but the drugs have never been tested as possible cancer treatments.

“What our study really says is that these drugs could have an entirely new second life, in combination with chemotherapy,” says Yaffe, who is a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. “We’re very much hoping it will go into clinical trials” for cancer.

Sandra Morandell, a postdoc at the Koch Institute, is the paper’s lead author.

To kill a tumor

P53 is a tumor-suppressor protein that controls cell division. Before cell division begins, p53 checks the cell’s DNA and initiates repair, if necessary. If DNA damage is too extensive, p53 forces the cell to undergo programmed cell death, or apoptosis. Tumors that lack p53 can avoid this fate.

“Usually p53 is the main driver of cell death, and if cells lose this pathway they become very resistant to different treatments that cause cell death,” Morandell says.

Several years ago, researchers in Yaffe’s lab discovered that in cancer cells with mutated p53, the MK2 gene helps counteract the effects of chemotherapy. When cancer cells suffer DNA damage, MK2 puts the brakes on the cell division cycle, giving cells time to repair the damage before dividing.

“Our data suggested if you block the MK2 pathway, tumor cells wouldn’t recognize that they had DNA damage and they would keep trying to divide despite having DNA damage, and they would end up committing suicide,” Yaffe says.

In the new study, the researchers wanted to see if this would hold true in tumors in living animals, as well as cells grown in a lab dish. To do that, they used a strain of mice that are genetically programmed to develop non-small-cell lung tumors. The researchers further engineered the mice so they could reversibly turn the MK2 gene on or off, allowing them to study tumors with and without MK2 in the same animal.

This new approach allows them, for the first time, to compare different types of tumors in the same mice, where all genetic factors are identical except for MK2 expression.

"This is a very elegant and potentially useful approach for others to use," says Titia de Lange, a professor of cell biology and genetics at Rockefeller University, who was not part of the research team.

Using these mice, the researchers found that before treatment, tumors lacking both MK2 and p53 grow faster than tumors that have MK2. This suggests that treating tumors with an MK2 inhibitor alone would actually do more harm than good, possibly increasing the tumor’s growth rate by taking the brake off the cell cycle.

However, when these tumors are treated with cisplatin, the tumors lacking MK2 shrink dramatically, while those with MK2 continue growing.

‘A nonobvious combination’

The potential combination of cisplatin and MK2 inhibitors is unlike other chemotherapy combinations that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which consist of pairs of drugs that each show benefit on their own. “What we found is a combination that you would never have arrived at otherwise,” Yaffe says. “It’s a nonobvious combination.”

While this study focused on non-small-cell lung tumors, the researchers have gotten similar results in cancer cells grown in the lab from bone, cervical, and ovarian tumors. They are now studying mouse models of colon and ovarian cancer.

The research was funded by the Austrian Science Fund, the National Institutes of Health, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., the Koch Institute, MIT’s Center for Environmental Health Sciences, the Volkswagenstiftung, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the German Ministry for Science and Technology, the Deutsche Jose Carreras Leukämie Stiftung, and the Anna Fuller Fund.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,800+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 4,000+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Using Ultrasound to Improve Drug Delivery
New approach could aid in treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.
Friday, October 23, 2015
Drug-Resistance Mechanism in Tumor Cells Unravelled
Targeting the RNA-binding protein that promotes resistance could lead to better cancer therapies.
Friday, October 23, 2015
Biologists Find Unexpected Role for Amyloid-Forming Protein
Yeast protein could offer clues to how Alzheimer’s plaques form in the brain.
Monday, September 28, 2015
Viruses Join Fight Against Harmful Bacteria
Engineered viruses could combat human disease and improve food safety.
Friday, September 25, 2015
Targeting DNA
Protein-based sensor could detect viral infection or kill cancer cells.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
A Metabolic Master Switch Underlying Human Obesity
Researchers find pathway that controls metabolism by prompting fat cells to store or burn fat.
Friday, August 21, 2015
Identifying a Key Growth Factor in Cell Proliferation
Researchers discover that aspartate is a limiter of cell proliferation.
Friday, July 31, 2015
Firms “Under-invest” in Long-Term Cancer Research
Tweaks to the R&D pipeline could create new drugs and greater social benefit.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Nanoparticles Can Clean Up Environmental Pollutants
Researchers have found that nanomaterials and UV light can “trap” chemicals for easy removal from soil and water.
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Tough biogel structures produced by 3-D printing
Researchers have developed a new way of making tough — but soft and wet — bio-compatible materials, called “hydrogels,” into complex and intricately patterned shapes.
Wednesday, June 03, 2015
Diagnosing Cancer with Help from Bacteria
Engineered probiotics can detect tumors in the liver.
Friday, May 29, 2015
Master Gene Regulator Could Be New Target For Schizophrenia Treatment
Researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have identified a master genetic regulator that could account for faulty brain functions that contribute to schizophrenia.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Designing Better Medical Implants
A team of MIT researchers have discovered a novel method for reducing the typical immune system rejection response when implanting biomedical devices into the body.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Brain Tumor Weakness Identified
Discovery could offer a new target for treatment of glioblastoma.
Thursday, April 09, 2015
New Nanodevice Defeats Drug Resistance
Tiny particles embedded in gel can turn off drug-resistance genes, then release cancer drugs.
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Scientific News
New Class of RNA Tumor Suppressors Identified
Two short, “housekeeping” RNA molecules block cancer growth by binding to an important cancer-associated protein called KRAS. More than a quarter of all human cancers are missing these RNAs.
Mathematical Model Forecasts the Path of Breast Cancer
Chances of survival depend on which organs breast cancer tumors colonize first.
Exploring the Causes of Cancer
Queen's research to understand the regulation of a cell surface protein involved in cancer.
Nanocarriers May Carry New Hope for Brain Cancer Therapy
Berkeley lab researchers develop nanoparticles that can carry therapeutics across the brain blood barrier.
RNA-Based Drugs Give More Control Over Gene Editing
CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique can be transiently activated and inactivated using RNA-based drugs, giving researchers more precise control in correcting and inactivating genes.
University of Glasgow Researchers Make An Impact in 60 Seconds
Early-career researchers were invited to submit an engaging, dynamic and compelling 60 second video illuminating an aspect of their research.
Metabolic Profiles Distinguish Early Stage Ovarian Cancer with Unprecedented Accuracy
Studying blood serum compounds of different molecular weights has led scientists to a set of biomarkers that may enable development of a highly accurate screening test for early-stage ovarian cancer.
Dead Bacteria to Kill Colorectal Cancer
Scientists from Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) have successfully used dead bacteria to kill colorectal cancer cells.
CRISPR-Cas9 Gene Editing: Check Three Times, Cut Once
Two new studies from UC Berkeley should give scientists who use CRISPR-Cas9 for genome engineering greater confidence that they won’t inadvertently edit the wrong DNA.
Genetically Engineering Algae to Kill Cancer Cells
New interdisciplinary research has revealed the frontline role tiny algae could play in the battle against cancer, through the innovative use of nanotechnology.

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,800+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,000+ scientific videos