Have researchers found cancer’s ‘off switch’?

A team at Florida’s Mayo Clinic has discovered a method of potentially halting the progress of cancer by reprogramming cancerous cells to behave as normal cells.

28th August 2015

Could treating cancer be as easy as flicking a switch? A team at Florida’s Mayo Clinic has discovered a method of potentially halting the progress of cancer by reprogramming cancerous cells to behave as normal cells, preventing further tumour growth.

The method hinges on the action of adhesion proteins, a type of molecular ‘glue’ that was previously thought to simply bind cells together. However, the researchers found that these proteins also play an important in signaling to the microRNA, part of the cellular ‘control system’, when a cell has expanded sufficiently and needs to stop growing.

The team found that one specific adhesion protein, PLEKHA7, essentially acts as a master switch that tells cells when to stop growing. If it is somehow missing or misplaced, no message is sent to the microRNA, growth continues, the cell takes on an irregular shape and eventually becomes cancerous.

However, they believe that reintroducing PLEKHA7 to the cells could halt the growth of the tumour and in effect ‘switch off’ the development of the cancer.

“By administering the affected miRNAs in cancer cells to restore their normal levels, we should be able to re-establish the brakes and restore normal cell function,” says lead researcher Panos Anastasiadis. “Initial experiments in some aggressive types of cancer are indeed very promising.”

The researchers are now developing delivery systems for their technique that could be used to treat tumours in human patients.

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