New study offers potential avenues for treatment of deadly nasopharyngeal cancer

June 23, 2014

A team of scientists from the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore (CSI Singapore) at the National University of Singapore, National University Cancer Institute Singapore (NCIS) and National University Hospital Singapore (NUH), discovered a distinct mutational signature and nine significantly mutated genes associated with nasopharyngeal cancer, paving the way to developing novel therapies for this deadly disease.

The research group, led by Professor H. Phillip Koeffler, Senior Principal Investigator at the CSI Singapore and Deputy Director of NCIS, has conducted the first successful comprehensive genomic study of , which has a particularly high prevalence in Southern China and Southeast Asia, including Singapore. The findings provide an enhanced road map for the study of the molecular basis of this form of .

The novel study was first published online in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics on 23 June 2014.

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma arises from the epithelial lining of the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat behind the nose. Unlike cancers that have been extensively studied, such as breast and colon cancers, there is currently limited understanding of the molecular biology of nasopharyngeal cancer. To date, no targeted therapy has been established and there is an urgent need for a comprehensive genomic landscape of this disease to guide the development of novel therapies.

In this study, the researchers analysed the genomic DNA and proteins of over 100 nasopharyngeal cancer patients in Singapore through advanced biological technologies. The research revealed that many genes are mutated and dysfunctional in the nasopharyngeal tumour cells, and some of them cause and exacerbate the disease. The analysis also showed enrichment of genetic lesions which affect several important cellular processes and pathways. Furthermore, a number of novel druggable candidates, which are proteins that have the ability to bind with drugs with a high affinity, were uncovered through this comprehensive study.

Dr Dechen Lin, Research Fellow at CSI Singapore and first author of the scientific paper, said, "This malignancy has been somewhat neglected because nasopharyngeal cancer is very rare in the US and Europe. However, the disease is particularly common in Southeast Asia, especially Singapore. Our current study offers immediate translational significance for nasopharyngeal cancer research, specifically, for identifying tailored targeted therapies for the patients, who continue to suffer because to date, no such regimens have been established."

Prof Koeffler said, "We wanted to boost the understanding of the etiology as well biology of nasopharyngeal cancer with the hope for improvements in diagnostics, prognostics and therapy, which will promote the well-being of Singaporeans. By completely deciphering all human genes at the single nucleotide level, our current findings provide an important foundation for the study of the molecular basis underlying this malignancy. More importantly, many potential therapeutic drugs have surfaced from our analysis, with some of them already in use for treating other types of tumours. Therefore, the results have the potential to rapidly facilitate the development of novel treatment strategies for nasopharyngeal cancer patients."

With the discovery of these previously unrecognised genetic defects in nasopharyngeal cancer, Prof Koeffler and his team will explore the detailed molecular mechanisms of these defects in the next phase of research. Associate Professor Loh Kwok Seng from NUH and NCIS, as well as Associate Professor Goh Boon Cher and Associate Professor Lee Soo Chin, from CSI Singapore and NCIS, who are authors of the paper and doctors to many of the patients involved in the study, will evaluate whether some of the genetic defects can be explored in the clinic to effectively treat this disease.

Explore further: Scientists discover novel genetic defects which cause oesophageal cancer

More information: The genomic landscape of nasopharyngeal carcinoma, DOI: 10.1038/ng.3006

Related Stories

Scientists discover novel genetic defects which cause oesophageal cancer

March 31, 2014
Latest findings by a team of international scientists led by Singapore-based researchers reveal the genomic landscape of oesophageal squamous carcinoma.

Smoking increases risk of death for nasopharyngeal carcinoma survivors

November 19, 2013
Survivors of nasopharyngeal carcinoma who are former or current smokers are more likely to have their disease progress, relapse, or spread, and are more likely to die of their disease, compared with survivors of nasopharyngeal ...

Scientists identify cancer specific cell for potential targeted treatment of gastric cancer

April 23, 2014
New research by the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore and National University Hospital Singapore suggests that a variant of a cell surface protein is an ideal target for developing drugs to treat gastric cancer

Researchers find protein target for anaplastic thyroid carcinoma

February 17, 2014
Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma (ATC) is an aggressive type of cancer with a poor prognosis for which there is currently no effective treatment. Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have discovered for ...

Scientists identify new biomarker for cancer in bone marrow: Promise for patients of multiple myeloma

December 13, 2012
Singapore scientists have identified FAIM, a molecule that typically prevents cell death, as a potential biomarker to identify an incurable form of cancer in the bone marrow. Patients with this form of cancer usually do not ...

New finding is potential predictor of deadly cancer common in Asia

June 14, 2011
In a study recently published in Cancer Research, Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) researchers found a protein that could help predict the spread of the head and neck cancer nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC); this protein ...

Recommended for you

Gene variant activity is surprisingly variable between tissues

August 21, 2017
Every gene in almost every cell of the body is present in two variants called alleles—one from the mother, the other one from the father. In most cases, both alleles are active and transcribed by the cells into RNA. However, ...

Genome analysis with near-complete privacy possible, say researchers

August 17, 2017
It is now possible to scour complete human genomes for the presence of disease-associated genes without revealing any genetic information not directly associated with the inquiry, say Stanford University researchers.

Science Says: DNA test results may not change health habits

August 17, 2017
If you learned your DNA made you more susceptible to getting a disease, wouldn't you work to stay healthy?

Genetic variants found to play key role in human immune system

August 16, 2017
It is widely recognized that people respond differently to infections. This can partially be explained by genetics, shows a new study published today in Nature Communications by an international collaboration of researchers ...

Active non-coding DNA might help pinpoint genetic risk for psychiatric disorders

August 16, 2017
Northwestern Medicine scientists have demonstrated a new method of analyzing non-coding regions of DNA in neurons, which may help to pinpoint which genetic variants are most important to the development of schizophrenia and ...

Phenotype varies for presumed pathogenic variants in KCNB1

August 16, 2017
(HealthDay)—De novo KCNB1 missense and loss-of-function variants are associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, with or without seizures, according to a study published online Aug. 14 in JAMA Neurology.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.