Lung cancer’s path to the brain probed

Usually, by the time a patient is diagnosed with lung cancer, it already has spread to the brain. Some cancers have a greater tendency than others to relapse, metastasize, and thrive in the brain. Don X. Nguyen, Ph.D., associate professor of pathology, and colleagues are working to understand why, with the goal of preventing the cancers’ spread.

As reported on April 15 in Cancer Research, the team identified a protein produced at high levels by a subset of lung adenocarcinomas (LUADs) that metastasize and kill patients more than any LUAD group.

That protein, HMMR, binds to hyaluronan, a molecule found within the extracellular environment of metastatic brain regions. The HMMR-expressing tumors may use the interaction with hyaluronan in the brain to shield themselves from the otherwise hostile environment, Nguyen says.

“Based on our findings and our experimental models, we are collaborating with a pharmaceutical company to test an agent that is currently being used in clinical trials for other types of cancer,” Nguyen says. “We believe that this agent may be repurposed to treat lung cancer brain metastasis in combination with other therapeutics which target the microenvironment.”


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