Irish and French researchers have discovered the function of a gene that is directly related to colon cancer survival.
This finding could eventually lead to the development of new drug treatments for the disease, which is newly diagnosed in around 2,500 Irish people every year.
The research centres on the gene, KCNQ1, which produces pore-forming proteins in cell membranes that are known as ion channels.
The KCNQ1 gene works by producing an ion channel, which traps a tumour-promoting protein in the cell membranes before it can enter the nucleus of the cell causing more cancer cells to grow. In other words, it helps to block the growth of colon cancer cells.
This marks the first study of its kind to determine the molecular mechanisms of how the KCNQ1 ion channel gene suppresses the growth and spread of colon cancer tumours.
"This is an exciting discovery as it opens up the possibility of a new kind of therapy that will target the KCNQ1 gene with drugs, and also as a biomarker to improve diagnostics of colon cancer onset and development in patients. This information will help clinicians to identify the most effective treatment for the individual patient," commented lead researcher, Prof Brian Harvey, of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).
He explained that in the future, as researchers learn more about this gene, ‘it will open up the possibility of developing new drug treatments that will be able to harness the suppressive properties of the gene to target the colon specifically, without exposing other tissues in the body to unnecessary chemotherapy'.
"The development of more targeted treatments for colon cancer is vital to improve the prognosis and quality of life for colon cancer patients," Prof Harvey added.
The RCSI team worked with researchers from the University of Nice and their findings are published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.