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How Do Melanoma Cells Survive Targeted Therapies?

December 30, 2020 • 1:02 pm CST
(Vax Before Cancer)

In a study published in Cell Systems, researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS) identified a new mechanism for how certain melanoma cancer cells can evade targeted therapy.

Working with cells in culture, these HMS researchers discovered that drug treatment leaves behind a population of “persister” melanoma cells that can survive and slowly divide due to sporadic, short-lived pulses of a growth signal. The signal is triggered by proteins outside of the cell and rewires growth pathways into a configuration unaffected by drugs.

The results offer new insight into a form of reversible drug resistance that results from a cell’s environment. The authors said that understanding these environmental effects will help with the design of better therapies and drug combinations against melanoma and other cancers.

“Preventing or overcoming drug resistance is the greatest challenge in using targeted anticancer therapies more effectively,” said senior study author Peter Sorger, the Otto Krayer Professor of Systems Pharmacology and director of the Laboratory of Systems Pharmacology at HMS, in a press release. “Cancers become drug-resistant in multiple ways, some of which involve genetic changes and others of which do not. If we can understand these resistance mechanisms, we can overcome them.”