Researchers have discovered how giving a class of drugs called AKT inhibitors in combination with radiotherapy might boost its effectiveness across a wide range of cancers, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Tumours often grow so quickly that some of the cells do not have access to the body's blood supply, causing them to become oxygen-starved. This rapid growth usually sends signals to the cells to die, but in cancers with faults in a gene called p53 - present in at least half of all cancers - this signal is blocked meaning the cells carry on growing.
In this study, the researchers found that six genes that help protect the body against cancer were less active in oxygen-starved cancer cells when p53 was also faulty. In the absence of two of these genes - PHLDA3 and INPP5D - a gene called AKT becomes permanently switched on preventing the cells from dying despite being oxygen-starved.
When drugs designed to block AKT were given to mice with tumours and lab-grown cancer cells lacking p53, the radiotherapy killed more tumour cells.
Importantly, lower activity in these genes was also linked to poorer survival in patients with a variety of different cancers. This suggests that adding AKT inhibitors to radiotherapy could be an effective way to treat many cancers.
More than half of all cancer patients receive radiotherapy as part of their treatment, and combining it with other treatments have the potential to improve survival for thousands of cancer patients. This research might play an important part in developing drugs that enhance radiotherapy.
Based on material originally posted by Cancer Research UK.