Something New: Diagnosing Lung Cancer

A new class of RNA molecules may hold key to lung cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Sometimes research yields a twofer. That could be a good thing for people with lung cancer.

lung-cancer-cell-dividingResearchers at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) have discovered molecules called oncomiRs. This has opened a new avenue for treatment but may also make it easier to diagnose this disease.

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules affect the way genes are regulated and expressed. OncomiRs are a type of RNA molecule that affect the development of lung cancer.

Lim Bing, PhD and Tam Wai Leong, PhD, both of A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore, led the study.

“We are interested in developing this detection method into a companion diagnostic that can improve disease tracking and provide real-time information on tumour progression,” Dr. Tam said in a press release.

The researchers found that cancer stem cells within lung cancer tumors are resistant to conventional treatment. These stem cells make relapse more likely. OncomiRs are the main drivers of cancer stem cells so a treatment targeted at oncomiRs could kill all the cancer cells and prevent relapses.

In addition to discovering the omniconRs, the researcher team found that a new kind of treatment called locked nucleic acid (LNA) would work against oncomiRs. When human lung tumors grown in mice were treated with LNA, the cancer cells were obliterated.

Dr. Lim, Dr. Tam and the research team also found that a blood test called a liquid biopsy could detect oncomiRs. The liquid biopsy offers a faster and less invasive method of determining whether patients will respond to conventional therapy or are more likely to have a relapse. It also provides a way to monitor patients and determine how they are responding to treatment.

“In addition, we hope to be able to overcome the clinical problem of tumours which develop resistance to therapy by understanding the key drivers of lung cancer, so as to develop new ways to improve the durability of patient response and improve health outcomes,” Dr. Tam said in the press release.

The study was published in the July 2016 issue of Nature Communications.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Medical Research Council, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, the National Research Foundation and the National University Cancer Institute, all of Singapore.

None of the authors reported a conflict of interest.
Nature Communications, “Tumour-initiating cell-specific miR-1246 and miR-1290 expression converge to promote non-small cell lung cancer progression”
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), “A new way to diagnose and treat lung cancer”
Written by: Beth Greenwood, RN | Medically reviewed by: Dr. Robert Carlson, M.D.