New research has identified a protein that encourages the growth of tumour cells in the oral cavity. When deactivated, the cancer cells die. By blocking the protein with existing drugs, scientists hope to develop new treatment options for mouth cancer patients for whom surgery and chemotherapy has not worked.

FRMD4A is a human epidermal stem-cell marker and its upregulation occurs in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. According to Cancer Research UK, the protein is permanently switched on in cancer patients and activates a process that helps cancer cells group and stick together. The higher the protein levels, the more likely the disease is to spread and return.

In a recently published study, cancer researchers describe how blocking FRMD4A reduces the proliferation of and even induces apoptosis of squamous cell carcinoma. In tests on mice, they were able to stop cancers growing and spreading by blocking the protein.

“Together, our findings suggest FRMD4A as a novel candidate therapeutic target in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma based on the key role in metastatic growth we have identified,” they concluded.

“What’s really exciting about this research is that we already have potential drugs that can be used to target this protein or compensate for the effect that it is having,” said Dr Stephen Goldie, who carried out the work at Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute. Among other substances, the researchers suggest that hyaluronan could potentially be beneficial in patients with head and neck cancer.

The scientists said that they now need to start trials with these treatments to determine whether potential drugs will work in patients as well.

Head and neck cancer is a very aggressive form of mouth cancer with a very poor survival rate. Only around 50 per cent of people with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma survive for at least five years. According to the researchers, this number has not improved over the last 30 years.

The findings were published in the July issue of the Cancer Research journal.

Cancer Research UK is the UK’s leading cancer charity. The organisation was founded in 2002 and conducts research on the disease in institutes and universities across the country. Its research is entirely funded through donations from the public, as it receives no government funding.

Original Source: Dental Tribune