Scripps scientists say new biomarker for various cancers might be more useful

Another newly discovered biomarker is now under consideration as a tool to help evaluate and treat disease. When the body expresses it, it appears to be tied to better survival chances in both non-small cell lung cancer and head and neck cancer.

A team at the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute, along with colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh and elsewhere, made the discovery. The journal Cancer will publish their findings in print and posted the study results online April 1.

The scientists looked at samples from 187 patients who had non-small cell lung cancer as well as samples from 60 patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinomas. Their finding is simple but powerful: Patients whose tumors expressed a high level of a protein called choline phosphate cytidylyltransferase-α, or CCTα, had better outcomes in both cancers. This was even true for patients with non-small cell lung cancer treated just with surgery and not platinum-based chemotherapy drugs (which have plenty of nasty, toxic side effects).

Previously, scientists believed that the biomarker ERCC1 would get the job done as a tool to evaluate and plan treatment for both cancers, but the researchers argue that their work shows CCTα is a better option. ERCC1 is linked with DNA repair, but CCTα accomplishes multiple tasks that make it a better indicator, they believe. CCTα is an ingredient in the synthesis of a major part of cell membranes. It also helps with embryo survival and is active in membrane-mediated signaling, the scientists noted.

If future research supports the initial findings, CCTα could be a valuable tool to help doctors figure out the best treatment for their patients. If found at higher-than-normal levels, for example, patients may be able to avoid chemotherapy and just rely on surgery, based on the study results. But tests on a few hundred samples hardly make CCTα a foolproof biomarker. Many more studies are needed on many more patients before the discovery is validated enough to change patient care. Still, study co-leader Laura Niedernhofer, an associate professor with The Scripps Research Institute, said the finding does create hope.

"Based on what we found, a high CCTα expression appears to be indicative of survival, making CCTα a promising biomarker," she said in a statement.

Others have made their own advances recently in the field of head and neck cancer biomarkers. International researchers led by Michigan's Beaumont Health System, for example, found two biomarkers that help predict resistance to radiation therapy for patients with squamous cell cancer of the head and neck. It's another advance that could help make treatment for the disease much more specific to individual patients, advancing personalized medicine in yet another way.

- read the release
- here's the journal abstract

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