“Silencing” the ASCL1 protein in adenocarcinoma (AD) cells markedly reduced cell growth and motility, according to new research out of the Mayo Clinic. The protein is associated with increased expression of a particular cancer-causing gene called RET.

Analysis of a compendium of 367 microarray-based gene expression profiles in stage I lung adenocarcinomas showed that patients with ASCL1 tumors with high levels of the RET oncogene protein did not survive as long as ASCL1 patients with low levels of RET.

When researchers blocked the ASCL1 protein in lung cancer cell lines expressing both genes, the level of RET decreased and tumor growth slowed. The team believes this makes the approach a promising target for potential drugs and a strong candidate for clinical trials.

“This is exciting because we’ve found what we believe to be a ‘drugable target’ here,” says George Vasmatzis, PhD, a Mayo Clinic molecular medicine researcher and senior author on the study. “It’s a clear biomarker for aggressive adenocarcinomas. These are the fast-growing cancer cells found in smokers’ lungs.”