Head and neck cancer – new study slows the growth of tumours

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University researchers are one step closer to developing more effective treatment for head and neck cancer.

Led by a team at UCLA School of Dentistry, the study found that by targeting a vulnerability in the cellular process of tumour duplication, they could affect its response to immunotherapy.

The prognosis for head and neck cancer is poor, with a high five-year mortality rate.

They focused on the enzyme called KDM4A. The replication and spread of cancer cells is linked to an over-expression of the enzyme.

Fight infection

The researchers removed the enzyme in a number of mice. As a result, they noticed a significant drop in the metastasis of cancer to the lymph nodes.

This is a precursor to the spread of disease throughout the body.

It also led to the activation of the body’s T cells, which fight infection. This killed cancer cells and helped to stimulate inherent tumour immunity.

Additionally, they then introduced a PD-1 blockade, which signals immunotherapy drugs to attack cancer cells. The combination of immunotherapy and KDM4A removal further hindered cell cancer growth and lymph node metastasis.

‘Major implications’

Dr Cun-Yu Wang – who headed up the team – said: ‘We know that the KDM4A gene plays a critical role in cancer cell replication and spread.

‘So we focused our study on removing this gene to see if we would get an opposite response.’

Dr Paul Krebsbach – dean and professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry – believes the findings have ‘major implications’ for the future of lifesaving therapies.

‘I am continuously impressed by Dr Cun-Yu Wang and his team for breaking through barriers in our understanding of cancer-causing cellular processes,’ said Dr Paul Krebsbach.

‘The results of this study have major implications for the development of more effective, life-saving cancer therapies.’


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