Divide And Conquer: Classifying Cancers For Targeted Therapy

With a new classification scheme for angiosarcomas, health experts can develop and select more effective treatments for cancer patients.

AsianScientist (Sep. 7, 2021) – Aggressive cancers like angiosarcomas are meeting their match, with an international team pioneering a way to classify them into three subtypes. The findings, reported in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, would help health experts deliver more effective and targeted treatments.

While highly prevalent cancers often get much of the spotlight, rare ones like angiosarcomas, found in the lining of the blood and lymph vessels, shouldn’t be taken lightly. More common in Asian populations, angiosarcomas grow and spread rapidly, colonizing various areas of the body.

Once the cancer has spread, chemotherapy is often the only treatment option despite proving largely ineffective. Recently, however, precision medicine has risen as a promising paradigm for cancer care, where clinicians choose treatments that are most likely to match individual patient needs—and the various mutations that their tumors carry.

But to select the best possible treatments, health experts have to know what they’re fighting against. Accordingly, researchers in Singapore and the US took a deep dive into the molecular drivers of angiosarcoma tumors, discovering key markers to devise a classification scheme for these cancers.

By analyzing patient samples from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) and the Singapore General Hospital, the team identified distinct evidence to divide the tumors into three different subtypes.

In the second cluster, for example, they found that genes linked to the cancer’s growth and spread were switched on, directing the elevated production of tumor-promoting proteins. Based on this profile, new therapies could be developed to target the tumor-linked genes.

Meanwhile, clusters one and three were predominantly head and neck angiosarcomas, with the third cluster having higher inflammation and a strong yet suppressed defense response from the immune system.

Strikingly, half of these head and neck tumors carried a greater number of mutations and showed ultraviolet (UV) mutational signatures, likely induced by exposure to UV radiation. UV-related tumors are known to respond well to a type of drug called immune checkpoint inhibitors, which prevent cancer cells from escaping the immune system’s defenses by helping white blood cells recognize and kill them.

By categorizing angiosarcomas in a more clear-cut way, the study sheds light on the critical variations that influence how these tumors grow and whether patients might respond positively to different treatment strategies. For the team, the hope is that a deeper understanding of such cancers will enable more effective patient care, matching individuals to suitable treatments and ultimately improving clinical outcomes.

“Our results are very promising as they show that we can potentially use existing modes of therapy to treat a subset of angiosarcoma patients,” said lead author Dr. Jason Chan, Clinical Assistant Professor from NCCS. “The next step will be to perform further molecular and immunological dissection of angiosarcomas to get more insight into how we can best use precision medicine to target these cancers.”

The article can be found at: Chan et al. (2020) Multiomic Analysis and Immunoprofiling Reveal Distinct Subtypes of Human Angiosarcoma.


Source: SingHealth; Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

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