New cancer vulnerability exposed

New cancer vulnerability exposed

Illuminate newsletter index page, March 2020
March 2020

Lymph node
Lymphoma is a blood cancer that begins in the cells of
the lymphatic system, such as lymph nodes (above).

Institute researchers have discovered a new vulnerability in lymphomas (cancers of the blood) that could underpin an effective new approach for treating multiple cancers.

The research, led by Professor Suzanne Cory, Dr Hai Vu Nguyen and Dr Cassandra Vandenberg, has revealed that MYC-driven lymphoma cells rely on another protein, called MNT, for their survival.

High levels of the MYC protein are found in up to 70 per cent of human cancers. MYC controls hundreds of genes, driving rapid cell production, said Professor Cory, who has studied MYC-driven cancers since the early 1980s.

“For many years we hoped for a drug that could directly target MYC as a potential cancer treatment, but to date such inhibitors have been disappointing in the clinic. It became clear we needed to look for other vulnerabilities in MYC-driven cancers,” Professor Cory said.

Promising new therapeutic target

Using laboratory models, the team discovered that the incidence of MYC-driven lymphomas was greatly reduced when MNT, another member of the MYC family, was absent. This suggested that MNT played a vital role during lymphoma development.

Dr Nguyen said the role became clear when the researchers found that pre-cancerous cells lacking MNT had high levels of apoptotic cell death.

“Thus, MNT is required to keep MYC-driven cells alive,”  he said.

“We went on to examine the impact of depleting MNT from fully malignant MYC-driven lymphomas and saw that the tumour cells rapidly died. This is an exciting finding that suggests MNT could well be a promising new therapeutic target for MYC-driven lymphomas."

Professor Cory said the researchers would now look at whether MNT was important in other MYC-driven cancers.

“Although a lot of work remains to be done to develop and test a new MNT-inhibiting therapy, our discovery opens up a new front MYC-driven cancers,” she said.

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