New drugs will treat cancer and blood clots in one blow

Cancer medication could soon also protect patients from deadly blood clots thanks to a breakthrough by researchers at the HRI. 

Our scientists have discovered that a protein known to cause cancer is also responsible for life-threatening blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which many people with cancer suffer from. 

The discovery, published this week in esteemed international science journal Nature Communications, allows drug makers to develop new cancer medications that inhibit this protein, fighting the cancer and the dangerous by-product, clots, in one powerful blow.

“Most current cancer medications increase the risk of developing blood clots so it’s very exciting to discover a way to dramatically reduce this risk.”
- Lead scientist, Associate Professor Simone Schoenwaelder from the HRI’s Thrombosis Research Group. 

The group investigated a cancer-causing protein called 14-3-3 to find out if it was linked to clots.
It’s been known for many years that 14-3-3 promotes cancer, including breast, lung, ovarian, stomach, lymphoma and pancreatic cancer, and many researchers around the world have been working hard to develop new therapies that inhibit the action of this protein.

It’s also been known that cancer patients who have chemotherapy are at a higher risk of developing life-threatening blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in the legs or pulmonary emboli in the lungs. Chemotherapy is thought to increase blood clot risk either by damaging the blood vessels or by reducing the production of proteins that protect us from clots.

“Strikingly, the types of cancer with an increased propensity to develop dangerous blood clots – cancer of the stomach, lung, pancreatic, breast, lymphoma, ovarian and lung - are those related to the 14-3-3 protein,” Associate Professor Schoenwaelder says. “We set out to determine whether there was a link between 14-3-3 and blood clotting.”

The researchers delved into the relationship and found that the 14-3-3 protein has a key role in promoting life-threatening blood clots.

“We have uncovered an important role for 14-3-3 in controlling the way blood clotting cells known as platelets can cope with stress and depletion of energy reserves, helping to control their clotting ability,” Associate Professor Schoenwaelder explains. “These studies have shown that inhibiting the 14-3-3 protein from the platelet can protect against the development of lethal blood clots.”

Professor Shaun Jackson, who heads the Thrombosis Research Group said the findings were particularly significant in light of current growing interest in the development of drugs to target 14-3-3 for the treatment of cancer.

“Most anti-cancer agents increase the risk of developing blood clots. For the first time, 14-3-3 inhibitors have the potential to not only treat cancer, but also reduce the risk of lethal blood clots,” he says. 

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