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UCLA researchers discover experimental therapy to treat colon cancer

By Alejandra Reyes-Velarde

July 24, 2015 9:43 p.m.

UCLA scientists discovered an experimental form of therapy with the ability to suppress the development of colon cancer, officials announced Friday.

Scientists from UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center discovered that patients with ulcerative colitis, who have a higher chance of developing a colon cancer, have high levels of microRNA-214. The researchers are hopeful that a microRNA-214 inhibitor drug developed during this study will be able to treat the disease.

In patients with ulcerative colitis, a chronic disease of the colon, the colon’s lining becomes inflamed and produces ulcers, or small open sores. Scientists aim to identify how inflammation contributes to the development of cancer, said Dimitrios Iliopoulos, a lead researcher for the study. Iliopoulos is an associate professor of medicine in the division of digestive diseases at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for men and women combined. The cancer is expected to cause 49,700 deaths in 2015, according to the American Cancer Society.

In the two-year study, which sought to provide appropriate treatment for the disease, researchers performed an analysis of 401 colonic tissue samples from patients with ulcerative colitis, among other conditions.

Iliopoulos and Dr. Christos Polytarchou, an assistant professor of digestive diseases at the School of Medicine, discovered microRNA-214 was found only in those patients with ulcerative colitis, especially those who have been afflicted with colitis for more than 10 years and are therefore at high risk for developing colon cancer, Iliopoulos said.

High-tech robotics and computer analysis combined molecular and clinical information to identify microRNA-214, assisting the scientists in developing a chemical inhibitor that would mitigate its effects.

Iliopoulos said the chemical inhibitor of microRNA-214 is a drug made of two parts, an RNA portion that targets the microRNA-214 and a chemical portion that stabilizes the RNA.

Iliopoulos and Polytarchou performed trials with mice that had ulcerative colitis and colon tumors and found that the durg effectively suppressed the diseases, Iliopoulos said. Mice given the inhibitor showed tumor reduction, reduced ulcer formation and reduced colorectal bleeding.

Iliopoulos said the researchers plan to apply for an investigational new drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which will likely take six to eight months, depending on the results of safety studies. They plan to initiate the first phase of clinical trials in 2016, Iliopoulos added.

Compiled by Jorge Valero, Bruin contributor, and Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, Bruin senior staff.

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Alejandra Reyes-Velarde | News editor
Reyes is the Daily Bruin's News editor and an Editorial Board member. Previously, she was the Science & Health editor covering research, the UCLA health system and graduate school news. She also writes Arts & Entertainment stories and photographs for the Bruin.
Reyes is the Daily Bruin's News editor and an Editorial Board member. Previously, she was the Science & Health editor covering research, the UCLA health system and graduate school news. She also writes Arts & Entertainment stories and photographs for the Bruin.
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