In some patients with non-small cell lung cancer, tumor cells carry genetic alterations that accelerate cancer growth. There are agents that prevent this, but cancer cells often develop resistance to these drugs. Arlou Kristina Angeles (German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) Heidelberg) has shown that tracking tumor DNA in the patient's blood is one way of detecting therapy resistance or disease progression at an early stage. This research can help adapt the treatment strategy for those affected as quickly as possible. Arlou Kristina Angeles received the 2022 Takeda Oncology Research Award for her findings.
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for about 75 percent of all cases of lung cancer. This form of lung cancer generally grows slower than small-cell lung carcinomas and therefore, in principle, has a better prognosis. However, in three to seven percent of those affected, the cancer cells carry a genetic alteration involving the ALK gene: this change causes the enzyme anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) to be overactive in the cancer cells, thereby accelerating tumor growth.
Patients with non-small cell lung cancer and ALK alterations are treated with so-called TKI inhibitors that blocks the activity of the ALK enzyme. However, the tumor cells often develop resistance against the drug and the therapy must be urgently adapted. In lung cancer, it is often difficult to take repeated tissue biopsies to detect the emergence of resistance mutations, so new ways of monitoring therapy response are urgently needed.
Arlou Angeles (DKFZ and NCT Heidelberg), investigated whether detection of tumor DNA in the blood plasma of NSCLC patients with ALK alteration is useful for assessing treatment response or early treatment failure. Tumor DNA was obtained from blood samples, sequenced, and analyzed for alterations in the ALK gene. In 19 of 43 patients, the scientist and her colleagues were able to detect disease progression earlier thanwith conventional imaging methods. This highlights the sensitivity of the liquid biopsy approach in detecting disease progression.
In their comprehensive analysis, Arlou Angeles and her colleagues were also able to link the pro-inflammatory proteins IL-6, IL-8 and IL-10 to disease progression. The combination of these biomarkers further increased the accuracy of detecting disease progression. She sees an opportunity for the liquid biopsy approach to tangibly improve clinical care for these patients.
To encourage outstanding research in the field of non-small cell lung cancer, the company Takeda Pharma offered a high-profile research award. Arlou Angeles' project was awarded the first prize, which is endowed with 30,000 euros.
Arlou Kristina Angeles studied biology and biotechnology at the University of the Philippines. In 2015, she began her doctoral research at the German Cancer Research Center in the Division of Cancer Genome Research, where she has been working as a PostDoc since receiving her doctorate in 2019.
A picture of Arlou Angeles is available for download: www.dkfz.de/de/presse/pressemitteilungen/2022/bilder/Angeles_Arlou.jpg