Putting our region's cancer needs first

North West Cancer Research Team Identify New Protein That Could Lead to Improved Treatments

A North West Cancer Research-funded team of researchers, based across the region, have identified a new protein in cancer cells which could lead to improved treatments for head and neck cancer and ovarian cancer patients.

Researcher and father and son

The team, which is headed by Dr Christopher Staples at Bangor University, Wales, seek to build upon prior research which found that ovarian cancer patients with a certain genetic mutation (in the BRCA genes) respond well to precision medicines called PARP Inhibitors. PARP Inhibitors specifically kill cancer cells with a BRCA mutation.

Researchers in Dr Staples’ laboratory have shown that the newly identified protein, named MRNIP, shares overlapping properties with BRCA proteins in that they both help cancer cells deal with chemotherapy. Some cancers have lost MRNIP, and therefore may respond well to certain anti-cancer drugs.

Dr Staples, with support from Dr Jason Parsons at the University of Liverpool and Professor Richard Edmondson at the University of Manchester, is exploring these new findings in head and neck and ovarian cancers by using gene editing technology to generate a series of cancer cell lines lacking the MRNIP gene. They will target these cells with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and other novel anti-cancer drugs.

The team will monitor the responsiveness of the cells and link the findings with the level of DNA damage to provide a route forward for new, more effective treatments for patients.

Dr Staples said: “Given that ovarian and head and neck cancers are disproportionally high in the North West, our ultimate goal is to develop new strategies to boost cancer cell killing and to improve survival rates of cancer patients in the region”.

“More effective treatments for these cancers are actively being sought, particularly for those types that display resistance to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Our research will focus on the MRNIP protein as a new target for treatment.

“Our long-term aim is to develop strategies leading to optimisation of patient treatment and improvements in long-term outcome and survival, particularly for cancer patients in the North West and North Wales.”

Ovarian and head and neck cancers are amount the top ten cancers that occur disproportionately in the North West, with incidences of patients with head and neck cancers 3.5 times the national average, and rates of ovarian cancer in Flintshire, Gwynedd and Anglesey are between 29 and 38% higher than the rest of Wales.