SCIENTISTS have made a major discovery in the fight against a rare childhood muscle cancer, paving the way for a new treatment for the numerous forms of the disease.
Experts at the University of Aberdeen have found a protein in the body – called Yap – is the cause of the cancer which results in tumours in the head, neck and eyes.
Experiments by the researchers on mice have proven that when the muscle-building protein is increased, the tumours form and when it is removed they shrink. The discovery could lead to the development of better therapies to treat the disease called Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) and other types of cancer in the future.
Dr Henning Wackerhage, from the university’s Institute of Medical Sciences, said: “Our identification of the Yap protein’s crucial role in the development of Rhabdomyosarcoma is the first step on the road towards understanding how we can target this rare disease.
“Our work will now focus on how the Yap protein works in cancer and how its activity can be controlled. If we can achieve the inhibition of Yap locally in the tumours, we could cause the cancer to stop and regress by turning the RMS into normal muscle instead.
“Other research has shown that Yap is active in several other types of cancer including liver and skin cancers. These results could therefore be of wider significance in also enhancing our global understanding of the role of Yap in cancer.”
RMS generally affects children under the age of ten and causes tumours in the head, neck and eyes. Around 60 cases of RMS are discovered in the UK every year and it is usually treated with invasive chemotherapy.
During muscle development, the body uses Yap to form muscle cells, but the study published today revealed that in RMS sufferers, the Yap protein remains active and cancerous.
Ross Anderton, six, from Ormiston, East Lothian, was diagnosed with RMS in 2009. His mother Lesley Lauder said: “The cancer did not respond as well as expected after three intensive cycles of chemo so a course of radiotherapy was on the cards. Then, we met with the radiotherapy oncologist and learned of the side effects that traditional radiotherapy has including increasing the chance of developing a secondary cancer.”
She took Ross to the United States for more specialist treatment where he ultimately went into remission, but she added: “Ross will have lifelong eye issues, he has had cataract surgery and eyelid surgery and will require both again in the future.”