Gene Mutation Increases Risk of Recurrent Papillary Thyroid Cancer in Some Patients

Falls Church, Virginia. Oct. 27, 2011 – Individuals with advanced papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) that are associated with the BRAFV600E gene mutation have a higher risk of recurrent disease and progression to more advanced, poorly differentiated thyroid cancer, according to data presented today at the 81st Annual Meeting of the American Thyroid Association (ATA). An understanding of the biological processes that underlie this progression could lead to the development of more effective therapies.

One approach to studying the role of BRAFV600E in PTC initiation and progression is to create mice in which the gene mutation (BRAFV600E) has been introduced and activated in the thyroid. These transgenic mice develop advanced PTCs that closely resemble human poorly differentiated PTCs. Mabel Ryder, MD, and colleagues from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Sloan-Kettering Institute (New York, NY) used BRAFV600E transgenic mice to study the effects of tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs), a type of white blood cell, on PTC initiation and progression. In cancers, TAMs are versatile and can either support or inhibit cancer progression. In PTCs, BRAF activation in the thyroid is accompanied by increased levels of colony stimulating factor 1, which stimulates the recruitment of TAMs to the thyroid. Once in the thyroid, TAMs accumulate alongside cancer-associated myofibroblasts (CAMs) to form a dense layer within and around the thyroid. The researchers used genetic techniques to kill the TAMs in PTCs. The result was a significant reduction in PTC size, total tumor cell volume and a more well-differentiated, less advanced PTC. The authors also demonstrated a functional link between TAMs, the recruitment of CAMs and PTC initiation. The researchers observed that when TAMs are depleted during PTC initiation, the density of CAMs is significantly diminished along with an impairment of PTC initiation.

“Many of the new treatments for thyroid cancer, such as kinase inhibitors, aim to block the activity of oncoproteins present within tumor cells. Our data suggests that immune cells in the tumor microenvironment play an important role in the biology of these cancers. This may be clinically relevant since there are new agents in development that can target TAMs, and we believe these should be explored, particularly in patients with advanced forms of the disease,” said Dr. Ryder.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that TAMs have an important role in the initiation and progression of PTC and may represent a potent therapeutic target for combating advanced thyroid cancers that do not respond to conventional therapies.

About the ATA Annual Meeting
The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Thyroid Association will be held October 26-30, 2011 at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa in Indian Wells (near Palm Springs), California. This four day creative and innovative scientific program, chaired by Drs. Anthony Hollenberg and Martha Zeiger, has carefully balanced clinical and basic science sessions on the latest advances in thyroidology. The ATA meeting is designed to offer continuing education for endocrinologists, internists, surgeons, basic scientists, nuclear medicine scientists, pathologists, endocrine fellows and nurses, physician assistants and other health care professionals. Visit for more information.

About the ATA
The American Thyroid Association (ATA) is the leading worldwide organization dedicated to the advancement, understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disorders and thyroid cancer. ATA is an international individual membership organization with over 1,400 members from 43 countries around the world. Celebrating its 88th anniversary, ATA delivers its mission through several key endeavors: the publication of highly regarded monthly journals, THYROID, Clinical Thyroidology and Clinical Thyroidology for Patients; annual scientific meetings; biennial clinical and research symposia; research grant programs for young investigators, support of online professional, public and patient educational programs; and the development of guidelines for clinical management of thyroid disease. Visit for more information.

Media Contact
Bobbi Smith
Executive Director
American Thyroid Association
Phone: 703-772-2462

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