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UTA researchers publish expert review on new cancer biomarkers

Subhrangsu Mandal
Subhrangsu Mandal, UTA associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and lead author of the study

Researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington have published a review article in the prestigious journal Cancer Research on the potential use of long non-coding RNA or lncRNA as novel biomarkers and therapeutic targets for cancer.

The human genome encodes more than 28,000 distinct lncRNA, which are ribonucleic acid molecules that are not translated or coded into proteins. Next-generation gene sequencing techniques have revealed that thousands of lncRNA are associated with various types of cancers.

“UTA is creating expertise in this specific niche cancer research area, where we are competing with other nationally and internationally recognized cancer research institutions,” said Subhrangsu Mandal, UTA associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and lead author of the study. “Our highly-cited study from two years ago linking the lncRNA molecule HOTAIR with breast, hepatocellular, colorectal, pancreatic, lung and ovarian cancers established us as a forerunner in this burgeoning research field.”

Genome-wide association studies of tumor samples have identified a large number of lncRNA associated with various types of cancer. Alterations in lncRNA expression and their mutations promote tumorigenesis and metastasis.

“Many lncRNAs are stable in body fluids and detectable in plasma or urine of cancer patients, with levels indicative of the severity of the disease,” Mandal added. “These factors make lncRNA an attractive choice for application as non-invasive biomarkers, and clinical trials are already underway for the use of specific lncRNA to detect prostate cancer.”

As lncRNA expression levels correlate with tumor aggressiveness and different stages of the cancer, these molecules are also potential targets for personalized cancer therapies, and “though the field is still in its infancy, we are also looking at using lncRNA to predict cancer prognosis and patient outcomes,” Mandal said.

UTA researchers have published multiple studies in this field, with one earlier this year this year that linked low oxygen levels to the growth of cancer cells in people with a specific lncRNA called HOTAIR. This study, published in the journal GENE, was a collaborative study carried out with UTA’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. 

“With this study, we are branching into more interdisciplinary studies as we work to strengthen the University’s focus on cancer, within the theme of Health and the Human Condition,” Mandal added. Health and the Human Condition is one of four guiding themes put forth in UTA’s Strategic Plan 2020 Bold Solutions|Global Impact.

More than 30 UTA faculty members focus on cancer research. The university registered more than $4 million in research expenditures for cancer in academic year 2016-17.