Lung cancer accounts for about 29% of cancer deaths in the United States. Brigitte Gomperts, MD, and researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) studied the first stage of lung cancer development. According to the study published in Stem Cell, reactive oxygen species (ROS) regulate the reparative process in the lungs, which is carried out by adult stem cells in lung airways after disease or injury. It is known that low ROS levels are needed to signal stem cells and high ROS levels can kill stem cells, but the UCLA researchers found that the ROS levels for initiating reparation increased and then sharply decreased, which prevents excessive cell growth and division. If the ROS levels do not return to low levels, then the cells will excessively proliferate and become precancerous lesions. This leads to cancerous tumors when the lesions’ cells undergo genetic changes. A variety of factors, such as inflammation, smog, and cigarette smoke, may be able to activate increased ROS levels in airway stem cells, and researchers say this may eventually lead to treatments customized to the patient. The study’s eventual goal is to target the lesions’ biology in order to create a strategy that prevents pre-malignant lesions and lung cancer.
Brigitte Gomperts have discovered the inner workings of the process thought to be the first stage in the development of lung cancer. Their study explains how factors that regulate the growth of adult stem cells that repair tissue in the lungs can lead to the formation of precancerous lesions. Gomperts and her team found that this reparative process is tightly regulated by molecules called reactive oxygen species, or ROS.