Researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have discovered a revolutionary experimental therapy, which has the ability to suppress the development of ulcerative colitis and colon cancer. The treatment involves the use of a chemical inhibitor able to block an RNA molecule (microRNA-214) involved in the transmission of genetic information. It holds promise to lead to new methods to diagnose and treat diseases of the colon. The study is now available online, and will appear in the October 1 print edition of the journal Gastroenterology.
The study authors note that high levels of microRNA-214 are commonly found in ulcerative colitis patients, who have an increased risk of developing colon cancer. They note that, at present, it is unclear why ulcerative colitis patients also develop colon cancer. About one-third (30%) of patients who suffer from of gastrointestinal discomfort are often diagnosed with “indeterminate inflammatory bowel disease” by their gastroenterologist. Even if the patient has all available biomarkers and underwent a colonoscopy, many physicians are still unable to determine if the patient has ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
For the two-year study, the researchers examined 401 colon tissue samples from patients in the US and Europe who were diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, sporadic colorectal cancer and colitis-associated colon cancer; they compared the specimens to those from individuals without these disorders or diseases. Study author Dimitrios Iliopoulos, PhD noted that the team were hopeful that their research would assist physicians in diagnosing this disease correctly and provide the appropriate treatment. He explained that they developed a systems approach, which could accelerate the drug discovery process by utilizing sophisticated computer programs and high-tech robotics that combine molecular and clinical information to identify the most important genes to create new drugs. The integration of this complex data is what led them to discover a new microRNA-214, which is a chemical inhibitor to treat UC and colon cancer. He said, “The first steps of the drug discovery process usually take five to six years and by using our novel approach we expedited the drug discovery process only in two years.”
Past studies have reported findings related to inflammatory responses in both sporadic and colitis-associated colon cancers; however, it was unclear until now whether the inflammatory signals regulated the same signaling pathways. Dr. Iliopoulos explained, “We evaluated this drug in mice with ulcerative colitis and colon tumors and found that in both cases it was highly effective to suppress these diseases.” The researchers plan to continue testing the microRNA-214 inhibitor and will apply for an investigational new drug application with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They hope to eventually begin phase I clinical trials for patients with ulcerative colitis next year.
Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US (when men and women are considered separately), and the second leading cause when both genders are combined. The American Cancer Society estimates 93,090 new cases of colon cancer and 39,610 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed in the US in 2015. In addition, 49,700 individuals are expected to die from the disease this year.