Cancer-causing gene could help predict treatment effectiveness

Blood analysis may indicate how patients will respond to treatment for head and neck cancer

Head and neck cancer is currently the sixth most common cancer on the planet, but up until now no biomarkers have been discovered to predict the response of tumors to treatment. A new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Cincinnati, hopes to change that fact, looking to the detection of the cancer-causing gene DEK in patient plasma.

The human DEK gene has, in the past, been confirmed to promote cancer, and it's found in high quantities in the tumor tissue of neck and head cancer patients, regardless of how far the cancer has progressed. In the knowledge that white blood cells secrete DEK protein, the researchers decided to look for the gene in the plasma of cancer patients, hoping that it might be possible to use the resulting data to assess how the disease might respond to treatment.

Blood samples were collected from patients with newly diagnosed, untreated head and neck cancer, alongside control samples taken from healthy patients. Separating the plasma from the samples, the researchers administered an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test, which uses antibodies and changes color to identify substances.

The results showed that DEK was present in the plasma of both healthy patients and those diagnosed with cancer, but at decreased levels in those with the disease. The readings also revealed a reverse correlation with IL-6 – a substance secreted by T cells, which are central to the immune system.

The researchers believe that the data may indeed be useful in predicting treatment outcome, with higher DEK levels in plasma likely preducting better immunotherapy results.

"This information will be important to verify DEK plasma measurements as a clinically useful test and may give insight to future personalized and targeted treatment strategies for head and neck cancer," said study lead Trisha Wise-Draper.

The team is continuing its research, working to determine whether specific DEK levels can be used to accurately predict response to various different treatments.

The findings of the study will be presented at the Multidisciplinary Head and Neck Cancer Symposium in Scottsdale, Arizona this week.

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