New research to target head and neck cancer
AUGUSTA, Ga., U.S.: For a group of researchers from the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, the enzyme ecto-5’-nucleotidase (CD73) is going to be the new focus. Known for helping to keep the immune system under control, CD73 may also help often-aggressive head and neck cancers thrive. Over the next two years, scientists will seek to determine where the high levels of the enzyme originate. Their long-term goal is to develop new methods of blocking them.
Drs. Yan Cui, Michael Groves and J. Kenneth Byrd will work together over the duration of the project, which has been funded by The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. According to Cui, who will be the principal researcher, one way in which CD73 supports cancer is by converting the cell fuel adenosine triphosphate, which usually works to activate the immune response, back to adenosine, a natural compound that inhibits it. Because of this, it makes it an immune checkpoint and potential treatment target in squamous cell carcinomas, the most common head and neck cancers.
Regarding the potential of blocking CD73, Cui noted that, because everything in the body is a balance, indefinitely blocking it could have negative consequences, such as enabling autoimmune disease. However, temporarily blocking it may help improve treatment response and survival for some patients.
“You have to figure out what is best for that patient at the moment in time they present,” said Groves. “For example, there is now evidence that a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, versus surgery as well, is best for tonsil cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes, because the destruction of tissue from surgery can be extensive, and survival with chemotherapy and radiation is just as good,” he explained.
“If we better understand the process, we can design how to target those processes, interrupt those interactions to reverse suppression and enhance immune activity,” noted Cui.