KU Leuven: Researchers from Leuven identify new route to paralyze rare lymphoma

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Researchers from KU Leuven, UZ Leuven and VIB have found a way to stop the growth of a rare but very aggressive type of lymphoma (peripheral T-cell lymphoma or PTCL). Through the use of medication, they can limit the cooperation between two genes, which is at the basis of the development and growth of this cancer. The research results have been published in the scientific journal Blood .

Despite the possible side effects, chemotherapy is an effective treatment with high success rates for many cancer patients. Unfortunately, this does not apply to patients suffering from a rare but very aggressive type of lymphoma, peripheral T-cell lymphoma (PTCL). 75 percent of these patients relapse after chemotherapy and the survival rates after 5 years are barely 10 to 30 percent. There are hardly any alternative treatment options, because little is known about this rare form of lymphoma – with about 10 cases in Belgium every year. The research team led by Professor Daan Dierickx (KU Leuven/UZ Leuven) and Professor Jan Cools (KU Leuven/VIB) studied the DNA of patients to find out which genes are important for the development and growth of these cancer cells.


There is still a lot of work to be done to optimize the combination of both molecules for the treatment of PTCL, but the first results in the lab are already looking good.

New collaboration
The researchers discovered a new collaboration between two genes: MYCN and EZH2. It was already known that a strong activity of MYCN can be associated with aggressive tumors, but it now appears that it also provides a strong activity of EZH2. This gene in turn enhances the effect of MYCN and together they ensure rapid growth and multiplication of cancer cells. “We often see genes in our bodies that reinforce each other’s effect, but this collaboration is new. When we inactivate one of these two genes in the lab in human cancer cells, we see a rapid decrease in numbers. From this we conclude that the cells are dependent on these two genes”, explains postdoctoral researcher Marlies Vanden Bempt. “Since this collaboration is so important for the growth of this type of cancer cells,

Targeted treatment

Dierickx and professor Jan Cools
In this study, the researchers used a molecule that completely breaks down EZH2, so that the collaboration with MYCN no longer lasts and the cancer cells die. “We tested this new molecule together with another drug against PTCL. The existing drug is currently only used in the United States because of its low efficacy, but by combining the two, they enhance each other’s effect and the cancer cells do not survive,” says Marlies Vanden Bempt. “There is still a lot of work to be done to optimize the combination of both molecules for the treatment of PTCL, but the first results in the lab are already looking good.”
“By treating patients specifically with drugs that respond to the action of specific genes that are essential for the cancer cells – possibly in combination with a lower dose of chemotherapy – the therapy remains more tolerable for the patient, sometimes with even better results,” concludes Professor Daan Dierickx. .

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