More and more, scientists are finding that cancers of different types have unexpected similarities. The knowledge is sparking hope that drugs targeting one type of tumor might work against others.
Recently, researchers led by Hua Yu, Ph.D., professor in City of Hope’s Department of Cancer Immunotherapeutics and Tumor Immunology, and Fan Yang, Ph.D., assistant research professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine, found that a kidney cancer drug may work against a type of brain tumor.
|Hua Yu, right, and colleagues found a kidney cancer drug could work for brain tumors. (Photo by Denise Bovee)|
Sunitinib currently is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat kidney cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. It also is approved for treating certain patients with a type of stomach cancer called gastrointestinal stromal tumor.
In the current lab study, Yu and her team found that sunitinib stopped the growth of medulloblastoma cells. Medulloblastoma is the most common form of brain cancer in children.
The drug also could make the cells undergo apoptosis, a form of programmed cell death.
Sunitinib is known to interfere with a number of processes that tumors need to grow and develop. Angiogenesis, the formation of blood vessels, is one of these processes. Tumors usually rely heavily on angiogenesis to nourish themselves and grow. By blocking angiogenesis, sunitinib cuts that lifeline to tumors, effectively choking them to death.
In previous research, Yu’s research team showed that sunitinib has another antitumor ability. It can prevent activation of a protein called signal transducer and activator of transcription 3, or STAT3.
Researchers know STAT3 well: It can promote cancer growth while protecting tumor cells from the immune system. Blocking STAT3 could make tumor cells more vulnerable.
“Since medulloblastoma cells are known to have elevated STAT3 levels, we wanted to see if sunitinib could kill them by blocking STAT3 activation,” Yu said. “We found it could.”
Medulloblastoma treatment today usually includes surgery and radiation, which can present challenges to children, especially the very young.
The study results suggest sunitinib is worth studying in clinical trials as a potential new treatment for medulloblastoma, according to the researchers.