A team of scientists and researchers from the University of Alberta have found that the body’s normal process of healing itself may enable cancer cells to survive radiotherapy.
Breast cancer patients typically undergo 25 daily doses of radiotherapy after surgical removal of a tumour in order to make sure that all breast cancer cells are killed, according to David Brindley, a professor of biochemistry and U of A and a member of the Cancer Research Institute of Northern Alberta.
During treatment, he said, the adipose tissue releases autotaxin. Autotaxin kicks-off a wound-healing response.
Unfortunately, “this response ends up protecting the remaining cancer cells, allowing them to survive and avoid destruction,” said Brindley.
The study was published in The FASEB Journal. This researcher was supported by grants from the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
As part of the study, Brindley and his fellow researchers exposed rat and human adipose tissue to radiation doses similar to levels patients would experience during radiation therapy, according to a report by Ross Neitz, of the U of A news team.
The team found that irradiation bumped up autotaxin production as well as an inflammatory wound-healing response.
“Cancer cells adopt a variety of strategies for avoiding the immune response in the body,” Brindley. “If we can block the autotaxin response, we think the body would then be more able to use its own immune system to attack residual cancer cells and to eliminate them, particularly when they are already damaged.”
The team is now experimenting with an autotaxin inhibitor. Their aim is to counteract the wound-healing process which is impeding radiotherapy’s effects.
By striking at the autotaxin, the team is focusing on a target that is independent of the characteristics and mutations of the tumour, said Brindley. He said he is hopeful that the treatment they are developing can be used on all kinds of breast cancer.
Brindley added that the strategy can be used to treat other types of cancer such as thyroid cancer and glioblastoma and to improve the efficacy of chemotherapy.