A gene that plays a role in the growth and spread of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) tumors has been identified. The finding opens the door for potential new treatment options.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, and about 85% of these cancers are NSCLC. Patients with NSCLC frequently have tumors with mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene. When activated, this mutated gene leads to tumor development and growth.

By studying lung cancer samples from patients who had undergone tumor resection, the researchers discovered that many patients with EGFR mutations also exhibited higher than normal rates of the gene fibroblast growth-inducible 14 (Fn14). The researchers believe that the activation of EGFR can lead to increased expression and activity of the Fn14 gene.

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The investigators also discovered that whereas overexpressing Fn14 enhances lung tumor formation and metastasis, when Fn14 is suppressed, metastasis in NSCLC is reduced.

“Our data suggest that Fn14 levels can contribute to NSCLC cell migration and invasion,” said Landon J. Inge, PhD, of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona. He was the lead scientist on this project, which was conducted in collaboration with the Translational Genomics Research Institute, also in Phoenix. Inge explained, “Thus, tumor suppression through the targeting of Fn14 may prove to be a therapeutic intervention in NSCLC and other tumor types.”

The Fn14 gene has been found to be elevated in other types of tumors, as well, including glioblastoma and certain types of breast cancer, suggesting that Fn14 may be a therapeutic target for multiple cancer therapies.

This study was published in the American Journal of Pathology (2012; doi:10.1016/j.ajpath.2012.03.026).