News Release
April 8, 2013

Penn Medicine Research Team Pinpoints Possible Predictive Biomarker for Identifying Patients Who May Respond to Autophagy Inhibitors

WASHINGTON, DC — Autophagy, the process by which cells that are starved for food resort to chewing up their own damaged proteins and membranes and recycling them into fuel, has emerged as a key pathway that cancer cells use to survive in the face of assault by chemotherapy and radiation. Using drugs to shut down that survival mechanism shows great promise, especially when combined with targeted agents and standard chemotherapies, but until recently, it has been unclear which patients’ cancers would respond to that combination therapy.

A team led by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania will present findings (Presentation #1679A) during the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2013 showing that colon cancer and lung cancer cell lines which expressed a gene known as helicase-like transcription factor (HLTF) tended to be impervious to the effects of the autophagy inhibition drug hydroxycholoroquine (HCQ). Cells where HLTF is silent, however, appeared to be sensitive to HCQ, which led the team to test HLTF expression in a group of colon cancer patients treated with two chemotherapies (the FOLFOX regimen plus bevacizumab) and HCQ. They found that low expression of HLTF predicted those who would respond to the combination therapy.

Since previous studies have shown that HLTF gene silencing is common in 20 to 40 percent of many epithelial cancers, the Penn team is hopeful their findings could lead to the development of a predictive biomarker to identify patients with other cancers who are most likely to respond to drug therapies involving autophagy inhibitors.

The study will be presented by Ravi Amaravadi, MD, in the Autophagy and Cell Death poster session, Hall A-C, Poster Section 23, at the at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mt Vernon Pl NW, Washington, DC 20001, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET on Monday, April 8, 2013.

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Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 17 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $392 million awarded in the 2013 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania -- recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; Chester County Hospital; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2013, Penn Medicine provided $814 million to benefit our community.

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