Singapore and Oxford scientists unlock secret to cancer cell growth

October 8, 2013

SINGAPORE – Cancer researchers have identified a new molecular mechanism that causes cells to grow faster than they normally do.

In doing so, they have also discovered how to turn the mechanism into a weapon against cancer cells.

The latest study was conducted by scientists from the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), the University of Oxford, and the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas.

The study revealed how methylation marks on a transcription factor protein can influence the growth properties of cells. The transcription factor E2F is a DNA-binding protein that controls the expression of genes required for cell growth. In some situations, such as cancer, increased E2F activity causes cells to grow at an accelerated rate.

Incidentally, E2F activity can also be manipulated to activate genes involved in a form of cell death known as apoptosis. The team discovered that reprogramming these marks could activate the “suicide machinery” in rapidly growing cancer cells.

Professor Nick La Thangue of the Department of Oncology at Oxford University, who supervised the project, explained: “It’s like there’s an angel and a devil competing to get on each shoulder of the protein. Which one gets the upper hand is able to whisper in the ear of the protein and tell it what it should do. With the molecular flag on one shoulder, E2F goes into cell kill mode. With the flag on the other, it goes into cell growth mode.”

The results have led to a better understanding of the molecular basis behind cancer growth and could potentially prove vital to clinical applications, especially in the development of more effective anti-cancer drugs.

The international team of researchers was supported by grants from A*STAR Singapore, Cancer Research UK (CRUK), Medical Research Council UK, National Institutes of Health (NIH), Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas and the Center for Environmental and Molecular Carcinogenesis at MD Anderson.

Source: YourHealth, AsiaOne
Published: 07 Oct 2013


Category: Education, Features

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