Study opens a new door to understanding cancer

August 9, 2007

An in-depth understanding of the mechanisms that trigger cancer cell growth is vital to the development of more targeted treatments for the disease. An article published in the August 3 issue of Molecular Cell provides a key to these mechanisms that may prove crucial in the future.

The paper is co-authored by Dr Morag Park, Director of the MUHC Molecular Oncology Group, and Dr Kalle Gehring, Head of the Nuclear Magnetic Resonnance Laboratory of the McGill University Biochemistry Department.

“To understand cancer, it is necessary to first understand how the molecules interact,” explains Dr. Park, who is also a Professor of oncology and biochemistry at McGill University. “In that study we have clarified the structure of some of the proteins involved and their connections, which allows us to understand the consequences of these interactions.” This is, in fact, a feat that merits close attention, because it means that researchers can now “see” elements smaller than a millionth of a millimetre!

In a cell’s interior, the function of the ubiquitin molecule is to “clean house.” It attaches itself to proteins that must disappear and triggers their degradation; in doing so, it allows a number of mechanisms to be minutely controlled. This new study reveals that ubiquitin also promotes interactions between proteins known as Cb-b. In a healthy patient, Cb-b is activated when a growth factor attaches itself to the surface of a cell, its role being to mitigate the cell proliferation and growth mechanisms induced by the factor. However, in some cancer patients this mitigation mechanism does not appear to function, partly because the ubiquitin does not attach itself correctly to the cell surface and to Cb-b. As a result, the effects of the growth factor become much more pronounced, which results in an unrestrained proliferation of cells – that can become a cancer.

“In the long term, this may serve as a basis for us to find ways to intervene in this chain reaction and discover a treatment” adds Dr. Gehring. “This new information about ubiquitin marks an important advance in our understanding of the mechanisms associated with cancer and contributes to the fight against the disease by directing us towards research avenues for new medications”.

Source: McGill University Health Centre

Explore further: Major breakthrough identifies cause and treatment of fatal autoimmune disease

Related Stories

Researchers discover otulipenia, a new inflammatory disease

August 22, 2016

National Institutes of Health researchers have discovered a rare and sometimes lethal inflammatory disease - otulipenia - that primarily affects young children. They have also identified anti-inflammatory treatments that ...

Research shows how cells handle big trash pickup

August 1, 2016

Everyone would rather cook than take out the garbage. Perhaps that's why biochemists learned how cells make proteins 70 years ago, but are just now learning how they get rid of proteins that are no longer needed or no longer ...

Researchers discover new proteasome regulatory mechanism

July 1, 2013

Dysfunction of the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) has been detected in many neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, and certain types of cancer. Such dysfunction is also believed to be ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Cow embryos reveal new type of chromosome chimera

May 27, 2016

I've often wondered what happens between the time an egg is fertilized and the time the ball of cells that it becomes nestles into the uterine lining. It's a period that we know very little about, a black box of developmental ...

Shaving time to test antidotes for nerve agents

February 29, 2016

Imagine you wanted to know how much energy it took to bike up a mountain, but couldn't finish the ride to the peak yourself. So, to get the total energy required, you and a team of friends strap energy meters to your bikes ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.