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New Mechanism for the Progression of Gastrointestinal Tumours

(Vienna, 9th March 2012) Until a few years ago the only therapy for the gastrointestinal stroma tumour was the surgical removal. Alternative treatment methods developed since have only partial success. The researchers at MedUni Vienna have now discovered a mechanism that is more important than the ones already known and could be an approach for new therapies.

Gastrointestinal stroma tumours (GIST) are a very particular challenge for cancer research. For once the tumours, which are mostly located in the stomach, are relatively rare (approx. 100 new cases/year in Austria) and hence are difficult to research. On the other side its behaviour varies quite a lot. While some GIST tumours are relatively harmless, others may become metastatic. For some time now such tumours can be treated in targeted therapies. But since such treatments are not effective for all GIST tumours there is a lot of interest in alternative treatments.

Known enzyme as an approach for a new therapy
A research team led by Peter Birner from the Clinical Institute of Pathology at the MedUni Vienna has now identified the enzyme MAPKAP kinase 2 as important for the progression of GIST. Birner states: “These results are interesting since we hardly knew anything about the role of MAPKAP kinase 2 in malignant cancer.“

However, it was known that this protein plays an important role in inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Due to this, there are already several selective inhibitors against MAPKAP kinase 2. According to Birner these medicines could possibly be used in future therapies for GIST patients.

Previous scientific opinion has been relativised

The discovery of this mechanism also relativises the meaning of the cancer gene ETV1 that in the case of GIST is regulated by MAPKAP kinase 2. At the end of 2010 the leading scientific journal “Nature“ published a study, which claimed that ETV1 plays a central role for the origin and progression of GIST. This assumption has been partially relativised by Birner and his research team: “Our research results show that MAPKAP kinase 2 is obviously more important for the progression of GIST than ETV1, which is only upregulated in some tumours.“

The work of the Austrian researchers was also published in the renowned journal “Clinical Cancer Research“. Sebastian Schoppmann of the University Department of Surgery at MedUni Vienna says: “This study is very welcomed since it shows that Austria ranks among the international top countries in the research of rare tumours, without conducting large prospective studies as this is the case in the US.“

Service: Clinical Cancer Research
Birner P, Beer A, Vinatzer U,  Stary S, Höftberger R,  Nirtl N, Wrba F, Streubel B, Schoppmann S: „MAPKAP kinase 2 overexpression influences prognosis in gastrointestinal stroma tumors, associates with copy number variations on chromosome 1, and expression of p38 MAP kinase and ETV1“. Clinical Cancer Research 2012 , Online first Feb 20, PMID: 22351694,