In 2015, author and neurologist Oliver Sacks succumbed to eye cancer. In comparison to other forms of cancer, eye cancer is incredibly rare, and due to the types of genetic mutations that cause it, it is also incredibly difficult to treat with drugs alone.
Inspired by Sacks, researchers and scientists from Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, University of Utah School of Medicine, and Navigen, Inc. have teamed up to work towards a new method of treating this resilient disease.
Their findings show that the mutation that causes eye cancer relies on the ARF6 protein to distribute cancer-promoting cells throughout the eye. Hoping to exploit this individual protein as a weak link in the chain, the team set out to develop a drug that blocks it entirely. So far, the drug has proven to be successful at inhibiting eye tumors in mice.
“We completely bypass the mutations in Gαq oncogenes that have been so hard to target, and have found a different strategy for slowing the disease” says Dean Li, M.D., Ph.D., Huntsman Cancer Institute investigator and H.A. and Edna Benning Endowed Professor of Internal Medicine at the Eccles Institute of Human Genetics.
By better understanding the process by which this type of cancer spreads and propagates there is hope that better forms of treatment might be developed, not just for eye cancer, but many forms of cancer.
Explaining their discovery in simpler terms, Li says, “In eye cancer, ARF6 is like a traffic cop at a major intersection that directs the traffic of cancer signals down a number of paths. The drug forces ARF6 to hold back traffic. We think this same treatment strategy could also work against other cancers.”
Not all cancers rely on the ARF6 protein, but those that do include skin, breast, brain, and renal, which combined cost tens of millions of lives each and every year. If the research done in honor of Dr. Sacks proves to be fruitful, those are lives that could possibly be saved.