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16/11/2021 - General information

Lung cancer patients with COPD have worse disease progression

Researchers from the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute and CIBERES detect an increase in oxidative stress in these patients that may favour tumour development. Reduced levels of the potent antioxidant glutathione may be used as a new early biomarker of cancer in people with chronic respiratory disease.

The risk of developing lung cancer increases in patients with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), so understanding the cellular mechanism involved in tumour progression is key. Indeed, researchers from the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM-Hospital del Mar) and the CIBER on Respiratory Diseases (CIBERES) have just published a study in the journal Biomedicines that identifies the role of systemic oxidative and antioxidant markers, which are differentially expressed in these patients with chronic respiratory diseases, and are therefore involved in the development of lung cancer.

Members of the study's team

On the occasion of World Lung Cancer Day (17th November) and World COPD Day (20th November) it is necessary to shine a light on the association between these diseases. Lung cancer, according to recent data from the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology, is the fourth most-often diagnosed cancer in Spain (29,638 new cases in 2020) and COPD is estimated to cause the death of more than 18,000 people a year, being the fifth leading cause of death in men.

The team led by Dr. Esther Barreiro, an IMIM-Hospital del Mar researcher and consultant in the Pneumology Service at Hospital del Mar, has been studying the role of microRNAs and the imbalance caused by oxidative stress in the tumour process, in a group of 168 patients from Hospital del Mar over a ten-year period, 134 of whom had lung cancer. Of those 134, 91 had underlying COPD and 32 did not.

As explained by Dr. Barreiro, "We detected a differential microRNA expression profile in lung cancer patients; in COPD sufferers, plasma levels of oxidative stress increased, while those of the powerful antioxidant glutathione (GSH) decreased. Therefore, redox imbalance is differentially expressed in people with cancer, but also in those with underlying respiratory diseases, revealing its possible implications in the tumorigenesis process in these patients."

Oxidative stress promotes carcinogenesis as a result of the processes involved in neoplastic transformation and DNA mutations, so that the modifications induced in proteins, lipids and DNA promote cell viability and cancer cell growth.

The head of the CIBERES group at Hospital del Mar considers that "Taken together, the results of this work suggest that COPD per se may lead to increased levels of systemic oxidative stress in patients with lung cancer, given that we also see an increase in this biological process in patients who only have this chronic respiratory disease."

The researchers therefore conclude that reduced levels of the potent antioxidant GSH can be used as an early biomarker of progression towards the development of lung cancer in COPD patients. 

Reference article:

Systemic Profiles of microRNAs, Redox Balance, and Inflammation in Lung Cancer Patients: Influence of COPD

Liyun Qin, Maria Guitart, Víctor Curull, Albert Sánchez-Font, Xavier Durán, Jun Tang, Mireia Admetlló y Esther Barreiro. Biomedicines. 2021 Oct; 9(10): 1347. Published online 2021 Sep 29. doi: 10.3390/biomedicines9101347

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