Beheading Head and Neck Cancers

Head and neck cancers sensitized by blocking beta 1 integrin

(RxWiki News) Part of the reason head and neck cancers are tough to treat is that the tumors sometimes become resistant to both radiation therapy (radiotherapy) and chemotherapy. A research team in Germany is working to overcome this problem.

Researchers have found that a specific way cells communicate, known as signaling pathway, is at the heart of why head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) does not respond to radiotherapy. Blocking this pathway makes the tumor cells sensitive to radiation, thus improving the effectiveness of that treatment.

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Professor Nils Cordes, at Dresden University of Technology, Germany directed this research, the findings of which may go beyond head and neck cancers.

In this study, Cordes and colleagues found that that the so-called beta-1 integrin/FAK/cortactin signaling pathway plays a key role in HNSCC resistance to radiotherapy.

When this pathway was blocked, the cells started to respond to the radiotherapy, which resulted in delaying tumor growth in mice models with HNSCC.

These findings suggest that targeting beta-1 integrin in combination with radiotherapy and radiochemotherapy may extend the lives of people with HNSCC.

dailyRx had an email exchange with Professor Cordes. "Targeted therapies are slowly but increasingly given concomitantly (at the same time) with fractionated radiotherapy." This approach will be the basis of upcoming clinical trials, he said.

"In contrast to the majority of studies on novel drugs, we tested for long term survival...relevant with regard to cure," Cordes said.

This work may have an impact on treating other tumors, including pancreatic, brain, colorectal and lung cancers. "As these represent some of the major human cancers, we have the hope that anti-beta1 integrin therapies can improve cancer cures of all these patients," Cordes concluded.

This study was published February 28, 2012 in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

This work was funded in part by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung and the Dresden University of Technology, Germany.

The authors have declared that no conflict of interest exists.

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Review Date: 
March 2, 2012