In her lab at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, the research arm of the Jewish General Hospital affiliated with McGill University, researcher Sonia del Rincon is focused on stopping metastasis by inhibiting MNK1 and MNK2 kinases: two molecules that impede the immune system sentries tasked with fighting off cancer cells.

It was a small revolution in cancer research. For the past decade or so, immunotherapy has been a weapon of choice in the anti-cancer arsenal, relying on the strength of the patient’s immune system to fight the disease. But over time, a type of resistance sets in, and the metastatic cells become more adept at outwitting immune cells.

The research team is now looking into the molecules produced in abnormal quantities by tumor cells, namely MNK1 and MNK2. In cases of melanoma and breast cancer, several genes are mutated and both kinases are overactivated. The overexpression of MNK1/2 is linked to the production of proteins that drive the proliferation of cancer cells and their spread to other organs.

Is there a way to short-circuit the process? That’s the very question the investigators have been trying to answer since 2018. Promising results in mice suggest that it may be possible since the tumours in rodents that are given kinase inhibitors grow at a slower rate and the animals’ life expectancy increases.

While the findings of preclinical studies point to promising results in humans, a miracle cure is still a long way off. For example, Sonia del Rincon hopes to one day use MNK1/2 inhibitors in combination with immunotherapy in preselected uveal melanoma patients.

Reference (in French)