Study: DNA-transcribing protein affects severity of anaplastic thyroid cancer

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is one of the most dangerous varieties of thyroid carcinoma, but a new study may have found at least one genetic controller that determines its severity.

Recent research, which appears in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, has implicated a DNA-transcribing protein called TWIST1 in the increased migration and invasion of anaplastic carcinoma cells.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is relatively rare, as far as thyroid tumors go. The National Institutes of Health estimates that just 1 percent of all thyroid cancer diagnoses are anaplastic, although the Columbia University Department of Surgery (CUDS) puts that figure at as high as 5 percent.

Also referred to as undifferentiated thyroid cancer, the anaplastic form of the disease grows faster and metastasizes more easily than any other form of thyroid carcinoma.

Unlike more common varieties of the disease, like papillary and follicular thyroid cancer, anaplastic carcinomas contain denser, faster-growing tumor tissue. CUDS notes that in the U.S., anaplastic thyroid cancer usually appears in adults around the age of 60.

Due to its aggressive growth rate and resistance to treatment, anaplastic thyroid cancer has a very poor prognosis. The five-year survival rate, even taking into account therapies such as thyroidectomy and radioactive iodine treatment, is 5 percent, CUDS states.

In the new study, a team of molecular pathologists and endocrinologists from Italy and Spain studied the effect that TWIST1 transcription factor had on anaplastic cancer cells.

TWIST1 is a sequence-specific transcribing protein, meaning it attaches itself to a particular section of a cell's DNA and transcribes it into an RNA sequence, which then goes and initiates a function in the cell.

The team found that interfering with TWIST1's activity decreased the migration and invasion rates of anaplastic cancer cells. Likewise, boosting expression of TWIST1 increased migration, invasion and the cells' longevity.

Researchers concluded that future treatments for anaplastic thyroid cancer may target the activity of TWIST1, which is overactive in this variety of the disease.

Relative to its rate of diagnosis, anaplastic thyroid cancer accounts for nearly 1,700 U.S. deaths each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.