Public Release: 

Body's cancer defenses hijacked to make pancreatic and lung cancers more aggressive

Cancer Research UK

CANCER RESEARCH UK scientists have discovered that a vital self-destruct switch in cells is hijacked - making some pancreatic and non small cell lung cancers more aggressive, according to research published in Cancer Cell today (Thursday)*.

The team, from the Cancer Research UK Centre at the UCL (University College London) Cancer Institute, found that mutations in the KRAS gene interferes with protective self-destruct switches, known as TRAIL receptors, which usually help to kill potentially cancerous cells.

The research, carried out in cancer cells and mice, shows that in cancers with faulty versions of the KRAS gene these TRAIL receptors actually help the cancer cells to grow and spread to new areas in the body.

These KRAS faults occur in 95 per cent of pancreatic cancers** and 30 per cent of non small cell lung cancers.

Professor Henning Walczak, lead researcher of the study and scientific director of the Cancer Research UK-UCL Centre, said: "Our research has unveiled a new strategy used by some pancreatic and non small cell lung cancers to overcome our body's natural defences against cancer. By understanding the faults in these cancers we think we can develop more tailored treatments, which could one day provide urgently-needed options for patients with these types of pancreatic and non small cell lung cancers."

Each year in Great Britain 32,500 people are diagnosed with non small cell lung cancer and around 8,600 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Survival for these cancers has not shown much improvement for 40 years.

Nell Barrie, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "Sadly survival from pancreatic and lung cancers remains far too low, partly because these cancers are very difficult to treat once they have spread.

"We urgently need better treatments, so it's vital to delve deeper into the molecular workings of these cancers to find ways to combat them. This research may one day help us find a way to block cancer spread, which would be a vital step to save more lives."

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For media enquiries contact Emily Head in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 6189 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.

Notes to editor:

The study has been part-funded by the European Research Council, through an Advanced Grant, worth over £1.7 million.

* von Karstedt et al. Cancer cell-autonomous TRAIL-R signalling promotes KRAS-driven cancer progression, invasion and metastasis. Cancer Cell. DOI: 10.1016/j.ccell.2015.02.014.

** Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.

About the European Research Council

Set up in 2007 by the EU, the European Research Council is the first European funding organisation for frontier research. The ERC operates according to an 'investigator-driven', or 'bottom-up', approach, allowing researchers to identify new opportunities in any field of research, without thematic priorities. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age to run five-year projects based in Europe. Since its launch, the ERC has funded over 4,500 researchers. Under Horizon 2020, the new EU research programme (2014-2020), the ERC has a budget of over €13 billion.

erc.europa.eu

About UCL (University College London)

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world's top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. UCL currently has over 35,000 students from 150 countries and more than 11,000 staff. Our annual income is more than £1 billion. http://www.ucl.ac.uk | Follow us on Twitter @uclnews | Watch our YouTube channel YouTube.com/UCLTV

About the UCL Cancer Institute

UCL Cancer Institute, London, is the hub for cancer research at University College London (UCL), one of the world's leading universities. The UCL Cancer Institute draws together over 300 researchers and clinicians working together to translate research discoveries into new strategies to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

The UCL Cancer Institute is affiliated with leading teaching and specialist hospitals in central London, including University College Hospital London (UCLH), Royal Free Hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital. The Institute is rapidly developing as one of the country's leading cancer research centres with a strong record of achievement and international reputation for clinical trials, research into childhood cancer and cancers affecting teenagers, haematological malignancies (including leukaemia and lymphoma), lung, liver, brain cancers and sarcoma.

The mission of the UCL Cancer Institute is to decrease the burden of cancer through laboratory and clinical research; develop excellence and place UCL as a major national and international hub for cancer research; and educate the next generation of cancer researchers and clinicians.

Visit http://www.ucl.ac.uk/cancer | Follow us on Twitter @uclcancer

About Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK is the world's leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.

Cancer Research UK's pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.

Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.

Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates in the UK double in the last forty years.

Today, 2 in 4 people survive cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK's ambition is to accelerate progress so that 3 in 4 people will survive cancer within the next 20 years.

Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.

Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 0300 123 1022 or visit http://www.cancerresearchuk.org. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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