In a new study, researchers found that a type of colon cancer drug may actually activate a cancer-promoting process in cancer cells.
This can make tumor cells resistant to many therapies and can lead to cancer relapses.
The cancer drug is called MEK Inhibitors.
The research was conducted by a team from the German Cancer Research Center and the Mannheim University Medical Center.
Previous research has shown that the Wnt signaling pathway plays an important role in cancer growth. It is linked to the development of cancer and affects cancer stem cells.
In colorectal cancer stem cells, the Wnt signaling pathway is particularly active and responsible for maintaining stem cells.
Depending on the Wnt activity, the cancer cells can switch back and forth between the stem cell state and a differentiated state.
This plays a decisive role in the success of treatment: Cancer stem cells are considered responsible for relapses after successful therapy.
While the “normal” cancer cells are usually switched off by the drugs, the stem cells survive and represent a reservoir for later cancer relapses.
In the study, the team found that the drug MEK inhibitors could stimulate Wnt activity in both mice and tumor cells of colorectal cancer patients.
MEK inhibitors could reduce the division rate of intestinal tumors, but at the same time, cancer stem cells accumulate in the intestinal cancer organoids.
These cells survive the therapy and are subsequently responsible for the relapse.
The finding provides a possible explanation for why these drugs are not effective in colorectal cancer.
The team now plans to examine whether the influence of MEK inhibitors on Wnt activity can be blocked with specific drugs.
One author of the study is Michael Boutros from the German Cancer Research Center.
The study is published in Nature Communications.
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