Last week in Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s newsletter, Center News, there was a tidbit that I just had to share because in so many ways this research matters to all of us.
The article begins: “Developing resistance to chemotherapy is a nearly universal, ultimately lethal consequence for cancer patients with solid tumors – such as those of the breast, prostate, lung and colon – that have metastasized throughout the body. A team of scientists led by the Hutchinson Center has discovered a key factor that drives this drug resistance – information that ultimately may be used to improve the effectiveness of therapy and buy precious time for patients with advanced cancer.”
It took a group effort from several researchers at various institutions, and Dr. Peter Nelson of the Hutchinson Center’s Human Biology Division (pictured to the left) was right there as the senior author of the study (published online August 5th in advance of print publication in Nature Medicine). What they discovered was “completely unexpected.” They found that DNA-damaging cancer treatment actually entices things called fibroblasts to produce a protein called WNT16B in mass quantities in the area around the tumor, what they called a “microenvironment.” This protein fed the cancer cells so they could grow, invade surrounding tissues, and resist chemotherapy! Bonanza for the cancer cell, right?
The article goes into more detail, summarizing the main point to say that “this discovery suggests that finding a way to block this treatment response in the tumor microenvironment may improve the effectiveness of therapy.”