Levels of a protein present in tumours could predict someone’s chances of surviving lung cancer and provide a new treatment, according to a study.
Patients with high levels of TLR2 in early-stage lung cancer were found to have increased survival rates compared with those with lower levels.
A drug compound that activates TLR2 was also tested on mice and managed to reduce tumour growth.
Researchers say the findings could help identify the disease earlier and improve people’s chances of beating the disease.
The five-year survival rate for late-stage lung cancer is 6%, but 50% when detected earlier.
TLR2 is linked with senescence, whereby cells stop growing and secrete chemicals and other proteins which trigger warning signals and defences against cancer.
Senescent cells show up in early-stage lung cancers but not late-stage, suggesting they prevent progression of the disease.
“I think these results are really exciting,” said Dr Fraser Millar, a lecturer in respiratory medicine at the University of Edinburgh.
“Very little is known about the biology of early lung cancer and, by understanding this process more, we have identified a possible new treatment for this devastating disease.”
The study was a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh, University College London, University of Cantabria, the Spanish National Research Council and the Mayo Clinic in the US.
It’s published in the Cell Reports journal.
The experts hope it could lead to research into using senescence and the associated chemicals as part of a screening programme to provide earlier diagnosis.
However, they say clinical trials would be needed to confirm whether the drug that activated TLR2 in mice is also effective in humans.