Living with cancer blog

Mayo Clinic research team shares discoveries on kidney cancer

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. March 26, 2014

Researchers Winston Tan, M.D., and John "Al" Copland, Ph.D., are teaming up to bring cutting-edge research and treatment options to patients who are living with kidney cancer.

Dr. Tan is an oncologist who treats patients with kidney cancer, and Dr. Copland is a scientist dedicated to kidney cancer research. Both practice at Mayo Clinic's campus in Jacksonville, Fla. The goal of their collaboration is to find the best treatment for kidney cancer by discovering new targets at the genetic level.

Tan and Copland's idea is to find additional options for kidney cancer patients when their metastatic tumors become resistant to current targeted therapies. When tumors are no longer affected by available therapies, the cancer is able to grow and spread, becoming untreatable, leading to death.

Over the course of their work, Tan and Copland made an important discovery in 2013 which may change the way oncologists treat kidney cancer. They discovered an enzyme called stearoyl-CoA desaturase-1 (SCD1), a protein that is overexpressed in most kidney cancer cells.

After this new discovery was made, they went to work to find a drug that would block the activity of SCD1 in order to shut down the growth of clear cell renal cancer cells (the most common type of kidney cancer). They also showed that an SCD1 inhibitor combined with FDA-approved agent temsirolimus has antitumor synergy. This preclinical data suggests that if these two drugs were combined, patient survival may be prolonged. Copland and Tan are currently working on an SCD1 inhibitor that they have developed and hope to move to a clinical trial. Stay tuned for updates on the development of this new therapy.

This is just one example of how this research team works together on a daily basis to move closer to better treatments and potential cure for kidney cancer. Their research focuses on the discovery of new genes and protein expression in kidney cancer tumors. To date, they have discovered over 30 new genes in kidney cancer that promote tumor growth. Only two of these genes have been studied in depth, SCD1 and a new gene soon to be published. They can study tissue from a patient's kidney cancer tumor to see if any of these genes are elevated in the tissue, which may be predictive of response to therapy targeted against that gene.

Many of these genes are also elevated in other cancers, so there is great benefit in learning more about what this means and in uncovering drugs that target the gene or protein to shut down the cancer cells. This is true for SCD1, which is overexpressed in most aggressive cancers. Tan and Copland believe that new findings in kidney cancer research will benefit other cancer patients.

Tan and Copland plan to launch a new, interactive blog soon on Advancing the Science where you can learn more about their latest findings and talk with them directly about their research.

They would love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts or comments here on the blog as well as on Advancing the Science.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Follow on Twitter: @SherylNess1

March 26, 2014