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Mitochondria mutations that may combat cancer

Friday April 9th 2021

Mitochondrial DNA mutations found in cancer tumours are linked to improved chances of survival, researchers have found.

The discovery has created a puzzle for scientists to establish what the has caused the mutations and what their role is. But Cancer Research UK scientists said they were optimistic it would open the way to new therapies.

Researchers at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute in Glasgow, UK, and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, USA, have found that patients with colorectal cancer had a 57% to 93% lower mortality risk from their cancer, depending on the type of mitochondrial DNA mutation.

They hope these findings will enable doctors to identify patients with more aggressive forms of bowel cancer so they can receive the most effective treatments.

The study, published in Nature Metabolism, collated and analysed data from the largest published dataset of tumour samples that include mitochondrial genome data and the corresponding clinical outcomes of the patients.

By analysing this data from 344 patients with colorectal cancer, the researchers matched groups of mutations to the likelihood of survival, finding the 57% to 93% decreased risk of death from colorectal cancer.

The researchers went on to examine existing data from more than 10,000 tumour samples across 23 cancer types to look for frequently repeated mitochondrial mutations and found they were present in almost six in 10 of the tumour samples, with 25 out of the 30 most commonly mutated genes across cancers being present in the mitochondrial genome.

Dr Payam Gammage, co-lead author and group leader at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, said: “This new study shines a light on the impact of mitochondrial DNA mutations in cancer, which have been overlooked for decades.

“This discovery could have a huge impact on patient care, with potential for changes to suggested treatments and a patient’s outlook based upon the mitochondrial DNA status of their cancer. However, further research will be necessary to move these discoveries from the lab to the clinic.”

Dr Ed Reznik, co-lead author based at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, added: “Using data hiding in plain sight, we have shown that a critical piece of the cell’s machinery to make energy is quite often broken in cancers. It now begs the question of how these mutations within mitochondrial DNA might be exploited as drug targets.”

The research was funded by Cancer Research UK.

Nature Metabolism 8 April 2021

[abstract]

Tags: Cancer | Gastroenterology | Genetics | North America | UK News

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