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Blood molecule may 'reduce effectiveness of cancer treatment'

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Removing a molecule in blood vessels could help increase the effectiveness of cancer treatments, according to new research.

The molecule that helps repair the body after chemotherapy or radiotherapy, known as focal adhesion kinase (FAK), was actually helping shield the deadly cells from the lifesaving treatment, scientists have discovered.

The Cancer Research UK team at Barts Cancer Institute, part of Queen Mary University of London, found that when they removed FAK from blood vessels that grow in melanoma or lung cancer models, both chemotherapy and radiation therapies were more effective in killing the tumours.

“This exciting research may have cracked how healthy cells in the blood vessels are protecting against cancer treatments”

Kat Arney

The researchers also studied samples taken from lymphoma patients. Those with low levels of FAK in their blood vessels were more likely to have complete remission following treatment.

The findings, published in Nature, suggest that developing drugs to eliminate FAK in cancer blood vessels may boost treatments and prevent the cancer from recurring.

Dr Bernardo Tavora, lead author on the paper from the Barts Cancer Institute, said: “This work shows that sensitivity to cancer treatment is related to our own body mistakenly trying to shield the cancer from cell-killing effects caused by radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

“Although taking out FAK from blood vessels won’t destroy the cancer by itself, it can remove the barrier cancer uses to protect itself from treatment.”

Dr Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK’s science communications manager, said: “This exciting research may have cracked how healthy cells in the blood vessels are protecting against cancer treatments.

“This research was only done in mice, but it gives real hope that we can boost the effectiveness of cancer medicine and sensitise cancers to the drugs we have,” she added.

  • Read the full study paper in Nature
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