Combatting a killer – understanding what causes small cell lung cancer

A new understanding of the causes of small cell lung cancer (SCLC) could lead to more personalised treatments and lower mortality from this deadly disease.

Dr Dan Gough from Hudson Institute researches small cell lung cancer.
Dr Dan Gough

In a study published in Oncogene researchers at Hudson Institute led by Dr Daniel Gough have shown that small cell lung cancer can show significant differences depending on the type of cell it originated in.

According to Dr Gough, that suggests small cell lung cancer is a series of diseases rather than being a single form of cancer – and that opens up new options for more personalised treatments.

Understanding diversity key to new therapies

Dr Gough said the lung is comprised of a diverse array of cell types and small cell lung cancer was thought to specifically occur in just one – the rare neuroendocrine cells (PNEC).

“Our study reveals that mutation of the common cancer gene MYC enables other lung cell types to form SCLC,” he said.

“Currently the survival rate from SCLC is extremely low, so understanding the diversity in causes of small cell lung cancer is key to designing new therapeutic strategies that will improve the lives of these patients.”

Small cell lung cancer – new therapies

Understanding the cause and drivers of small cell lung cancer complexity will enable the development of new and effective therapies for a disease that is currently a death sentence.

In a hopeful sign for SCLC patients, Dr Gough said: “This opens up the possibility for personalised medicine based on specific vulnerabilities.”

Funders | Victorian Cancer Agency; Cancer Council Victoria

Collaborators | Peninsula Oncology; Research Institute in Oncology and Hematology, Cancer Care Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.

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