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Spectrin Gene Identified as a Biomarker in HPV-Negative Oral Cavity Squamous Cell Carcinoma

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Key Points

  • Subjects whose tumors expressed spectrin, which is involved in the formation of cell membranes, were 4.6 times more likely to die at any given time when compared with patients without spectrin.
  • Even when researchers controlled for cancer stage and other factors, patients with the expressed spectrin gene still were significantly more likely to die than those in which the gene was turned off.

Researchers have identified a gene that may help to predict survival outcomes in patients with cancer of the mouth and tongue. Patients whose tumors express a gene called spectrin are 4.6 times more likely to die at any given time, according to a study by researchers at Loyola Medicine and Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. The finding, published by Yang et al in Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, could help guide treatment decisions.

In some cases, patients with early-stage oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma can have worse outcomes than patients with later-stage disease. Previous studies have found that patients with oropharynx cancers associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV) tend to have better outcomes. But there is no reliable biomarker to predict outcomes among patients who are HPV-negative, said researchers.

Study Findings

In this study, the Gene Expression Barcode, a research tool coinvented by Michael J. Zilliox, PhD, Director of the Loyola Genomics Facility and an Assistant Professor in Loyola Stritch School of Medicine and Graduate School's Department of Public Health Sciences, was used to examine publicly available genetic data from 54 tumor samples. The samples were taken from patients who had HPV-negative squamous cell carcinoma in the mouth.

The study found that subjects whose tumors expressed spectrin, which is involved in the formation of cell membranes, were 4.6 times more likely to die at any given time when compared with patients without spectrin.

Even when researchers controlled for cancer stage and other factors, patients with the expressed spectrin gene still were significantly more likely to die than those in which the gene was turned off. This finding suggests that the spectrin gene may provide more information about survival than cancer stage alone.

The researchers caution the results are preliminary and need to be validated in an independent patient group. Such research is ongoing.

The Gene Expression Barcode

Research institutions have made public genetic data from nearly 100,000 patients, most of whom had cancer. In raw form, however, these data are too unwieldy to be of much practical use for most researchers. The Gene Expression Barcode applies advanced statistical techniques to make the mass of data much more user-friendly to researchers.

The barcode algorithm is designed to estimate which genes are expressed and which are unexpressed. Like a supermarket barcode, the Gene Expression Barcode is binary, meaning it consists of ones and zeroes—the expressed genes are ones and the unexpressed genes are zeros.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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