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Small Molecule Might Play Big Part in Lung Cancer
Date:7/18/2009

High levels of miR-21 were found in nonsmoking patients; could be target for treatment

SATURDAY, July 18 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have isolated a small molecule that might play a big part in a form of lung cancer that typically strikes people who have never smoked, opening up the possibilities for new treatments for this deadly malignancy.

The microRNA miR-21 was found particularly elevated in adenocarcinomas that affect never-smokers, especially in individuals who tested positive for mutations in their epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene. Annually, more than 10 percent of lung cancers strike people who never touched a cigarette.

Japanese and American researchers involved in this new study believe that the miR-21 protein is not merely a marker of disease, such as PSA levels are in prostate cancer screenings, but an actual contributor to the cancer process. The findings appear in this week's online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This is very sophisticated, high-end science," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. "It's very intriguing."

Doctors have long known that there are differences in the biology and, ultimately, in the treatment of lung cancers that affect smokers and those that strike people who have never smoked. Among these never-smokers, the most common form of lung cancer is adenocarcinoma, a type of non-small cell cancer that arises in the lungs' peripheral tissues. Non-small cell malignancies make up the majority of U.S. lung cancer cases, followed by small-cell malignancies.

Scientists examined cancer samples from 28 patients, all of them never-smokers who had adenocarcinoma. Compared with tissue samples taken earlier from smokers who had the same disease, miR-21 was noticeably elevated in patients who had never smoked, according to researcher Dr. Curtis Harris, chief of the Labora
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