Study Finds New Gene Linked With Accelerated Colon Cancer Growth

Colon cancer affects over 106,000 people in the United States annually (per the American Cancer Society). While the overall death rate from colon cancer has dropped over the past decade, deaths among people under 55 increased by 1% annually between 2008 and 2017. New research from Mount Sinai's Tisch Cancer Institute could help improve colon cancer treatments and survival rates. According to Science Daily, the study published in Nature Communications found a new gene linked with accelerated colon cancer growth. For the first time, researchers were able to link external inflammation around cancer tumors to malignancy and the rate of tumor growth. 

Researchers analyzed live tumors and the surrounding tissue after they were surgically removed from 15 living cancer patients. Senior study author Dr. Ramon Parsons, director of The Tisch Cancer Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, credited advanced medical technology for the transformative find. "We had live specimen live cells straight from the operating room that allowed us to immediately measure the epigenetic state of that tumor," Dr. Parsons said in a press release. "Without that infrastructure here at Mount Sinai, we couldn't have made this discovery."

Inflammation contributes to super-enhancers that accelerate tumor growth

The study published in Nature Communications found super-enhancers in the DNA surrounding colon cancer tumors that regulate the gene, PDZK1IP1. Researchers previously thought the gene slowed cancer growth. However, when inflammation and oxidative stress create an external environment around tumors that allows super-enhancers to thrive, the PDZK1IP1 gene actually enables tumor growth. "In the United States, colon cancer is the third most prevalent and second most deadly cancer," Royce Zhou, an M.D./Ph.D. student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and leading study author, said in a press release

Surgery is the only reliable colon cancer treatment, and immunotherapies that work for other advanced cancers are only effective in a small group of colon cancer patients. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can increase the risk of colon cancer. Understanding how inflammation in the micro-environment around tumors could help researchers develop new, more effective treatments for colon cancer.

"This stresses the importance of understanding what we can do to curb the inflammatory effects in the colon through prevention or understanding what dietary effects might have on the microenvironment in the colon," senior study author Dr. Parsons said in the press release.