Targeting Ku70 could improve bowel cancer treatment

Posted: 29 January 2024 | | No comments yet

The Ku70 protein prevents cancer cells from becoming more aggressive and metastasising. It could also be used as an immune biomarker.

Scientists from The Australian National University (ANU) have discovered that manipulating the Ku70 protein, which is found in the immune system, can help overcome bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most diagnosed cancer in Australia, claiming over 100 lives each week. However, about 90 percent of cases can be successfully treated if detected early. 

Dr Abhimanu Pandey, lead author of the study, said the Ku70 protein can be “turned on” by using a combination of new and existing drugs. He explained: “In its activated state, the protein acts like a surveillance system, detecting signs of damaged DNA in our cells…DNA is the genetic code of life. Damaged DNA is a sign of danger that can turn healthy cells into cancer cells.”

The study showed that mice and humans lacking a single allele of the DNA repair protein Ku70 had increased susceptibility to the development of intestinal cancer.

Dr Pandey continued: “Our research shows that Ku70 can ‘cool off’ cancer cells and mop up damaged DNA. The protein prevents the cancer cells from becoming more aggressive and spreading throughout the body, essentially deactivating them and keeping them in a dormant state.” 

Australians between the ages of 50 and 74 receive a free bowel screening test every two years under the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, which is an valuable measure to promote early detection and treatment. The risk of developing bowel cancer is greater in individuals aged over 50, but an increasing number of younger Australians are now being diagnosed with it.

Dr Si Ming Man said that future bowel cancer screening methods could include checking the levels of Ku70 in pre-cancerous polyps, abnormal growths of tissue found in the colon, before healthy cells turn cancerous. He further commented: “Our research shows Ku70 is a good immune biomarker, meaning it helps us predict who will fare better or worse after being diagnosed with bowel cancer.”  

Dr Man concluded: “We know early detection and treatment is vital to overcoming not only bowel cancer, but potentially other cancers as well.”  

This study was published in Science Advances.