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Studying drug resistance in lung cancer

  • Researcher: Professor Michael Seckl
  • Institution: Imperial College School of Medicine, London, England
  • Award Amount: £156,217 for 3 years from January 2013
  • Cancer Type: Lung Cancer
Studying drug resistance in lung cancer
Lung cancer is the commonest cancer killer in the world, with non-small cell lung cancer accounting for more than 80% of all cases. The disease has usually reached an advanced stage by the time it is diagnosed, and less than half of people who receive chemotherapy benefit from the treatment. It is therefore important that new treatments are developed. Genetic studies have found changes in different types of lung cancer, which makes it possible to group patients according to the type of disease they have. It also means that new treatments can be designed specifically for these different types of lung cancer.

About 10% of patients with non-small cell lung cancer have a mutation in the gene that controls a protein called EGFR. Some drugs exist that work on this mutation, and these drugs are initially very effective in about 90% of these patients. Unfortunately the cancer quickly becomes resistant to the treatment, and it is therefore important to overcome this resistance to ensure that more people survive this disease.

In previous work, Professor Seckl and his team found that cancer cells that were resistant to one of these drugs had very low amounts of a protein called glutathione inside their cells, and when glutathione levels were raised in these cells, they were less resistant to the drug. Professor Seckl wants to study molecules that control glutathione levels in the cancer cells and determine how they relate to resistance to drugs that target EGFR mutations. These results will be used to test whether new drugs that raise glutathione levels can be used to stop drug resistance in pre-clinical models. The results should help us to overcome drug resistance in lung cancer patients with the EGFR mutations, and prolong their survival.
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