University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine scientists have identified potential therapeutic target for drug-resistant colon cancer.
The researchers aim at blocking a molecule found on the surface of cells.
Drugs that target the epidermal growth factor receptor, or EGFR, have been used for a number of cancers.
But these drugs called EGFR inhibitors, such as cetuximab, have not been very effective against colon cancer.
According to Dr David Threadgill, adjunct professor in the department of genetics at UNC and lead author of the study, drugs that target the closely related receptor ERBB3 would probably be much more effective than EGFR inhibitors at treating most colorectal cancers.
During the study, the researchers genetically blocked ERBB3 in a mouse model of colon cancer and in human colon cancer cell lines.
"If you genetically remove ERBB3, as you would if you were pharmacologically targeting it, then the mice rarely develop colon cancer," said Threadgill.
In the human colon cancer cell lines that are resistant to EGFR inhibitors, cell death increased dramatically when ERBB3 was genetically removed.
"So ERBB3 is essential for preventing colon cancer cells from dying," Threadgill said.
Threadgill is conducting further studies for testing a pharmacologic inhibitor to get the same anti-ERBB3 effect they achieved with genetics.
"If we can use an inhibitor to block ERBB3, then it should be a very potent anti-cancer therapeutic," he added.
The study appears in Journal of Clinical Investigation.