Long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) profiles change dramatically in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

A new research study published by Roy Castle Lung Cancer Research Foundation scientist provides new insights into the range of molecular abnormalities underlying the pathogenesis of NSCLC. The study was published in British Journal of Cancer on 5 Feb 2020 and utilised a massive screening of long non-coding RNAs in a large number of lung tumours, demonstrating that over 6,000 lncRNA genes are highly dysregulated, i.e. produced in higher or lower amounts compared to normal lung cells.

lncRNAs compose a class of genes that do not encode a protein as the “classical” coding genes. While the first such gene in humans was discovered in 1989, it was only after 2010 that the field saw an explosive expansion with the understanding of their involvement in human disease, among which cancer. As a relatively new class of genes, it is under-researched; we only understand the function of a small minority of a total exceeding 15,000 of these genes. However, current research has shown that lncRNAs do not transfer genetic information within the cell (as the “classical” genes would do); instead, they exhibit a wide range functions, including the regulation of other genes, serving as scaffolds for protein complexes etc.

A group of scientists of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Research Programme in the University of Liverpool screened a large number of lung tumours for the presence of these lncRNAs and reported a list of over 6,000 genes to be abnormally produced. The team, led by Dr Lakis Liloglou, subsequently comparatively analysed the findings to a central database (TCGA – The Cancer Genome Atlas Program of the National Cancer Institute in the USA)  in order to validate the results and compare to lung tumours from different countries.

This discovery opens new avenues for identifying biomarkers for the clinical management of lung cancer. The research team is currently preparing the plan for the next steps to translate the findings into clinically useful information. The most potent task currently is to test whether the highly overexpressed lncRNAs in lung tumours can be detected in the blood, therefore assisting early detection. The team has access to the precious Biobank of the Liverpool Lung Project, funded by the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, which enables such studies and the Liverpool team is intending to start the new work by summer 2020.

The published paper can be found in (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41416-020-0742-9)