Tuft cell discovery could lead to new way to treat deadly form of small cell lung cancer

By The Science Advisory Board staff writers

June 22, 2022 -- Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) researchers have discovered how tuft cells are generated in the body, offering hope that disrupting tuft cell development could lead to a new way to treat this deadly type of small cell lung cancer.

Researchers found that a protein called POU2F3 must connect with OCA-T proteins for tuft cells to develop. The discovery of the protein interaction suggests that better, more targeted therapies may be within reach of tuft cell lung cancer.

"The interaction we discovered may be an Achilles' heel of these tumors," said Xiaoli Wu, who led the study as a Stony Brook University graduate student-in-residence at CSHL, laying the groundwork for future tuft cell cancer research.

While tuft cells help protect the body against infections, the disruption of tuft cell development in the body is predicted to have minimal side effects, particularly in adult lung cancer patients.

"The only side effect we would expect if you broke this interaction is you would lose your tuft cells," Wu said, adding that it could make patients more vulnerable to infection with certain parasites, like roundworms. However, Wu noted that "worm infections are usually not a major health concern in adult lung cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy."

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