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New Understanding of Pulmonary Tumors


The results of a study published on the prestigious "Oncogene" scientific journal shed light on a new mechanism that permits lung cancer stem cells to spread. The study, which was coordinated by Prof. Rita Mancini from the Sapienza Department of Clinical and Molecular Medicine, was conducted in collaboration with several important institutions including the Regina Elena National Institute for Tumours and with the support of AIRC, the Italian Association for Research on Cancer.

In recent years, the understanding has generally been that tumors are heterogeneous populations of cells organized according to a precise hierarchy, the top of which is a subset of stem cells that feed the tumour’s growth. Growing evidence indicates that these cells are more resistant to drugs and responsible for the spread of metastasis and the recurrence of the disease after treatment. Thus, fighting the mechanisms that control the vitality of cancer stem cells is a fundamental goal to eradicate the growth of tumours.

"Our lab has been studying the metabolism of unsaturated fatty acids and, in particular, of the acids in the SCD1 enzyme which controls its synthesis,” explains Rita Mancini. “In this paper, the study of isolated lung stem cell cancer collected from the pleural effusions of patients indicates how SCD1 acts by activating two key metabolic pathways, in a cascade, in cancer cells: beta-catenin and subsequently one that involves two proteins known for their ability to control cell growth in the core level, YAP and TAZ. In other words, this new study,” continues Rita Mancini, “reinforces the importance of SCD1 as one of the main agents of lung cancer stem cell growht. We also have sufficient reason to believe that the key role of SCD1 extends from the stem cells to other types of tumours, too."

"The therapeutic potential fallout of our results,” points out Gennaro Ciliberto, Scientific Director of the Regina Elena National Institute for Tumours, “is the ability to block the growth of stem cells using small molecules that inhibit the enzymatic activity of SCD1, and which should be able to establish synergies with current therapies. This is what we encountered in our studies of cancer cells in test tubes, while we are currently testing more complex models of tumour growth." The very interesting thing is that SCD1 inhibitors are already available for use in humans. "So, the next step,” concludes Ciliberto, “will be the ability to transfer this therapeutic option to patients, in line with our translational research approach that begins with the patient passes through the lab, and returns to the patient."

The other institutions that collaborated in the study are the Pascale Institute of Naples, University Federico II of Naples, Luigi Vanvitelli University of Campania, the University of Trieste and the University of Leicester in the UK.