Researchers Identify New Target to Improve Cancer Therapies

Geneticists from the Trinity College Dublin have recently found new biological targets that could potentially assist in the development of new therapies for drug-resistant cancers. This work was led by Adrian Bracken, Associate Professor in Genetics at Trinity, and was recently published in the journal Molecular Cell in concert with a separate study carried out by these researchers at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre. Evan Healy, Irish Research Council PhD Fellow in Professor Bracken’s lab, served as the lead author of this paper.

Their work related to Polycomb genes, which were first studied for their role in cell identity regulation. These genes play a pivotal role in epigenetics, which involves phenotypic variances due to changes in gene expression rather than actual genetic code. In 2011, researchers found that the Polycomb gene EZH2 was frequently mutated in samples of lymphoma. Since this discovery, lymphoma treatments have been developed to inhibit EZH2 and are performing well in clinical trials.

Drug resistance poses as a potential shortcoming of these experimental drugs however, therefore there is a need for research into other treatment strategies. These geneticists found that EZH2 requires additional compounds to properly focus its activity on a specific region of the genome. These newly identified components present as a potential new target for these EZH2 inhibitors.

“This new discovery was driven purely by our curiosity to understand how Polycombs regulate cellular identity, but we also anticipate that it will lead to new opportunities to develop alternative treatments for patients with cancers driven by mutations in EZH2 and its related genes,” said Bracken. “We are extremely grateful for funding support from the Irish Research Council Advanced Laureate programme and Science Foundation Ireland, without which this research would not have been possible.”

“Earlier this year, the Irish Research Council announced a game-changing investment of €11.8 million in open frontier research to fund 12 researchers under our Advanced Laureate Awards programme,” claimed Peter Brown, Director of the Irish Research Council. “Adrian Bracken was one of those researchers, while members of his team are also availing of supports through other Irish Research Council programmes. We are delighted to support Adrian and his team to conduct ground-breaking research which is pushing out the boundaries of our understanding. The article in Molecular Cell, a leading journal in the field, reflects the calibre and significance of the research being done.”