Cachexia is a phenomenon in which tumour-secreted factors induce extensive muscle damage and weakness in cancer patients. This condition can render patients too weak to tolerate standard doses of cancer treatments and can cause premature death due to wasting of heart and diaphragm muscles. Despite the devastating ubiquity of this condition, the cellular mechanisms of cachexia are not fully understood. As such, there are currently no approved pharmaceutical treatments to alleviate this condition. Therefore, there is a big unmet need for the targeted and effective treatment strategy for metastasis-induced muscle wasting. However, the scientific group, led by Dr Swarnali Acharyya, at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, developed a new technology that is a therapeutic target and diagnostic marker for cachexia, a metastatic cancer-induced muscle wasting disorder.

Cachexia occurs in many types of cancers, including pancreatic, gastrointestinal, lung, and head and neck cancers. Yet the condition remains poorly understood, due in part to limited research funding in this area, difficulty developing animal models that accurately replicate the condition in human cancer, and a lack of reliable biomarkers to help diagnose cachexia early and monitor its progression during cancer treatment.

This newest method is the precise therapeutic target and diagnostic marker for cachexia. The technology identifies the zinc transporter ZIP14 as a primary mediator of muscle atrophy in cachexia. ZIP14 has been found to be upregulated in cachectic tissue, where it facilitates the aberrant accumulation of zinc in muscle tissue, leading to muscle wasting. As a result, it identifies a crucial role for ZIP14 in skeletal muscle as a mediator of cancer-induced muscle atrophy, which could provide a basis for designing anti-cachexia therapies and diagnostic markers of cachectic tissue in metastatic cancers. This technology has been validated in metastatic mouse models.

This novel therapeutic target can be used not only for treatment and prevention of metastasis-induced cachexia but for treatment of other muscle-loss disorders too. Furthermore, this diagnostic marker to identify cachexia or susceptibility to cachexia can be also applied as an effective research tool for investigating mechanisms of muscle loss providing researchers with the detailed understanding of muscle wasting mechanisms.