Breakthroughs in Retinoblastoma Research May Lead to Better Cancer Treatments

Pediatric retinoblastoma has been central to cancer research because it develops specifically in response to the loss or change of just one gene. When the single gene associated with retinoblastoma – RB1 – is not working as usual, cone cells in the retina can basically multiply without regulation. Now it’s been found that the oncogene MDM2 can also be instrumental in cell proliferation.

This finding combined with other research pinpointing a specific protein (YM155) that prevented the death of cancer cells may be critical in improving retinoblastoma treatment outcomes. Further, these findings could have an impact on cancer treatment in general as doctors and researchers begin to further understand whether these genes and proteins have an impact on the growth and cell death of other types of cancers.

MDM2 and Retinoblastoma Cells

An oncogene is a gene that can assist with transforming a body cell into a cancer cell. It’s been found that MDM2 blocks a specific protein (p53) that will ordinarily cause excess cells generated during unregulated proliferation to die. MDM2 also regulates the protein MYCN that plays a role in promoting cell proliferation – not just in retinoblastoma, but in other child cancers as well.

By learning more about how MDM2 works to regulate MYCN and what causes MDM2 to stop blocking p53, researchers may be able to develop medications and therapies that specifically target these proteins in effective ways. This could improve outcomes for retinoblastoma patients and potentially patients with other types of cancers, as well.

Protein YM155 and Apoptosis

Protein YM155 is another protein that has been found to prevent apoptosis, or cell death. This protein can be a hindrance when treating retinoblastoma, mitigating the effectiveness of chemotherapy and other types of therapies in actually killing the cancer cells. By utilizing therapies that inhibit YM155 when administering treatment for retinoblastoma, researchers have found that the therapies are more effective than when administered alone.

By putting together the findings regarding these particular genes and proteins, researchers and doctors may be able to better understand how retinoblastoma cells survive in patients and ultimately how to better target the retinoblastoma cells with fewer side effects. Researchers may be able to develop medications and therapies that work faster and are more effective in eliminating the cancer and preventing secondary cancers.

If therapies are developed that more effectively treat retinoblastoma, some of the same findings could be applied to treatments developed for other types of cancers, as well. These breakthroughs could potentially have benefits for many cancer patients of all ages and diagnoses.