CUHK Discovers New Therapeutic Target for Lung Cancer, Bringing New Hope for Treatment

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Research by the School of Medicine at CUHK has found that lung cancer can utilize hematopoietic regulators to construct a microenvironment favorable for tumor growth, which may become a new therapeutic target. The team successfully verified the efficacy and safety of the treatment through mouse experiments, bringing new hope to the treatment of lung cancer. The research results have been published in the leading international scientific journal “Advanced Science.”

Assistant Professor Patrick Tang Ming-kuen of the Department of Anatomical and Cellular Pathology, Faculty of Medicine, CUHK, pointed out that the tumor microenvironment, that is, the non-cancerous cells in the tumor tissue, plays an important role in promoting the growth and spread of cancer cells. However, in contrast to cancer cells, the tumor microenvironment is not heterogeneous, making it an ideal target for cancer therapy.

In 2022, the same research team discovered an important phenomenon that forms the tumor microenvironment, “Macrophage-Myofibroblast Transition” (MMT). Under this mechanism, the immune cells, “macrophages” responsible for the anti-cancer activity in tumors, are transformed into the cancer-promoting “myofibroblasts” due to long-term overactivation.

Dr. Philip Tang Chiu-tsun, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Anatomical and Cellular Pathology of the Faculty of Medicine at CUHK, pointed out that the team tried to investigate the underlying mechanism at the single cell level and unexpectedly discovered that the hematopoietic regulatory factor Runx1 is critical in promoting MMT mutation in macrophages in tumor patients.

The first question to be addressed is whether inhibiting Runx1 might affect hematopoiesis since Runx1 plays an important role in blood formation. However, a recent study found that zebrafish lacking Runx1 can still maintain normal hematopoiesis through other pathways.

Through a series of experiments, the CUHK team found that inhibiting Runx1 through gene therapy or drugs can effectively inhibit MMT and tumor growth in mice with lung cancer without any side effects. Prof. To Ka-fai, Professor in the Department of Anatomical and Cellular Pathology, Faculty of Medicine, CUHK, believes that the data provided by this study serves as an important rationale to further transform the tumor microenvironment into an important basis for clinical applications, and may eventually lead to the development of effective cancer therapies targeting MMT.

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