GROUND-BREAKING cancer research in Ireland has pinpointed the reason why some patients are resistant to treatment for oesophageal cancer.
There are 400 cases of oesophageal cancer in Ireland each year according to Irish oesophageal Cancer charity Lollipop Day, but seven-in-10 people don't recognise the symptons until it's too late.
Oesophageal adenocarcinoma is a cancer of the food-pipe.
It has seen an increase of 600 per cent over the past three decades worldwide and rates are projected to continue increasing over the next 20 years.
For the first time, a team of cancer researchers at Trinity College Dublin have discovered the molecule absent from the cancer stem cell, miR-17, that proves resistant to the radiotherapy treatment used to treat the cancer.
The team was led by Dr Stephen Maher, Ussher Assistant Professor in Translational Oncology.
He said: "This work is extremely important in understanding why tumours are inherently resistant to radiotherapy and how they can acquire resistance.
"Our findings strongly suggest that it is the cancer stem cell population that we need to destroy if treatment is going to be effective in our oesophageal cancer patients."
Dr Maher added: "Up until recently cancer stem cells were largely considered hypothetical, as there were no clear ways to identify and isolate them.
"Once we had identified these stem-like tumour cells, we isolated them and started to pick apart their biology."
Dr Niamh Lynam-Lennon, an Irish Research Council-funded Senior Research Fellow with Trinity’s Department of Surgery, said the research could help treat other diseases that are treated with radiation.
"Interestingly, in the lab we found that if we put a synthetic version of miR-17 into the resistant cells they became more sensitive to radiation. Going forward, we could use synthetic miR-17 as an addition to radiotherapy to enhance its effectiveness in patients."
Oesophageal cancer patients normally undergo radiotherapy and chemotherapy to shrink their tumor prior to surgery, but a majority of patients are resistant to these treatments and have to deal with uneasy side effects.