Normally immune cells like polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNs) protect our body against invading pathogens, but sometimes they go overboard. Accumulating in tissue they can cause cell injury in the GI tract, leading to the development of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) and potentially, colorectal cancer. While neutrophils can drive inflammation, it remains unclear just how they contribute to tumor development.
Supported by funding from a Digestive Health Foundation, Ronen Sumagin, PhD, a faculty member in the Department of Pathology at Northwestern Medicine and colleagues plan to define the mechanism that allows neutrophils to both promote abnormal cell mutations and inhibit DNA repair genes. They will also study if neutralizing these harmful effects can prevent increased mutations and cancer. The research team will specifically explore the potential use of targeted inhibition PMN-derived miRNAs as an antitumor therapy and test the theory that PMNs play a critical role in causing genomic instability, cellular transformation and tumor growth.
Recurring PMN-mediated injury to the intestinal lining is a hallmark of IBD and significantly enhances the risk of developing colorectal cancer (CRC). Current IBD therapies include steroids, which have harsh long-term side effects. Confirmation of the role of PMNs, and identification of specific targets to inhibit PMN activity in patients with IBD, could help reduce the need for steroids and lead to the development of future diagnostics for colon cancer. Preventative treatment in this vulnerable patient population—many of them young adults—could significantly reduce their risk of colon cancer, which typically increases with age. Beyond IBD patients, Dr. Sumagin’s groundbreaking discovery of the relationship between inflammation and cancer could have far-reaching implications for all inflammatory-related cancers, from liver and lung to skin malignancies—virtually any cancer caused by chronic inflammation.