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Study Identifies Interleukin-11 as a Potential New Anticancer Target

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Key Points

  • Interleukin-11 was found to be more potent than interleukin-6 in promoting cancer development in human gastrointestinal cancers.
  • Blocking interleukin-11 in models of gastrointestinal cancer stopped tumor growth and could lead to tumor shrinkage.

According to a study published online today in Cancer Cell, the molecule interleukin-11 may be a potential new target for anticancer therapies. Until now, interleukin-11’s role in cancer development has been underestimated, but researchers have recently identified this molecule as a "dark horse" for the development of cancer. The discovery suggests that blocking interleukin-11 signaling could ultimately provide a new approach to the treatment of gastrointestinal cancer.

When a tumor develops, the noncancerous tissues around it can become inflamed, and produce many different molecules, including the two related proteins interleukin-11 and interleukin-6. These cytokines, or hormone-like signaling molecules, are thought to promote the growth and spread of cancer cells, but interleukin-11 was thought to have only a minor, if any, role during cancer development.

However Tracy L. Putoczki, PhD, and Matthias Ernst, PhD, from the Division of Cell Signaling and Cell Death at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia, have now shown that interleukin-11 is one of the most important cytokines that stimulate the growth and spread of cancers. The researchers discovered that blocking interleukin-11 in models of gastrointestinal cancer stopped tumor growth and could lead to tumor shrinkage, making this cytokine a promising potential new target for treating many types of solid cancers.

Dr. Putoczki said the team was stunned to discover that interleukin-11 was much more potent in promoting cancer development than interleukin-6. “When considering which cytokines drive cancer development, interleukin-6 has always been in the spotlight,” she said. “Despite being very similar to interleukin-6, interleukin-11 has often been overlooked by cancer researchers. Our new research now shows that it might in fact be very important.”

Potential for New Anticancer Therapies

Dr. Ernst said the team had begun to explore how the discovery could be applied to potential new anticancer therapies. “Treating cancers with agents that block cytokine signaling is an exciting new approach that potentially has advantages over current treatment strategies,” he said. “Drugs that block the action of cytokines have previously been developed for both inflammatory disease and cancer and, in the case of interleukin-11, our work does not suggest the likelihood of undesirable side effects. Moreover, agents that inhibit interleukin-6 signaling are already in clinical trials for ovarian, kidney, prostate, and breast cancer. Our discovery paves the way for trials of agents that stifle interleukin-11.”

The research was supported by the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, CSL Ltd, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, Cancer Australia, Cure Cancer Australia, German Cancer Aid, and the Victorian government.

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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