Cancer is characterized by the abnormal and uncontrollable growth of cells and researchers from the University of Rochester’s Center for RNA Biology have found a new way to slow down the fast-growing cells that characterize cancer.
Generally all cells go through the “cell cycle” and culminate in orderly cell growth and division but in cancer, the cell cycle is out of order and divide faster without stopping and invade surrounding tissues.
Rochester researchers identified a protein called Tudor-SN that is key during the cell division period. When scientists eliminated this protein from cells, using the gene editing technology CRISPR-Cas9, cells took longer to gear up for division. Essentially, the loss of Tudor-SN slowed the cell cycle.
“We know that Tudor-SN is more abundant in cancer cells than healthy cells, and our study suggests that targeting this protein could inhibit fast-growing cancer cells,” said Reyad A. Elbarbary, lead author. He further explained that there are existing compounds that block Tudor-SN that could be good candidates for a possible cancer treatment.
The study supervisor Lynne E. Maquat from the same lab had earlier discovered that Tudor-SN influences the cell cycle by controlling microRNAs, molecules that fine tune the expression of thousands of human genes.
When Tudor-SN is removed from human cells, the levels of dozens of microRNAs go up, boosting their presence that puts the brakes on genes that encourage cell growth. With these genes in the “off” position, the cell moves more slowly from the preparatory phase to the cell division phase.
“Because cancer cells have a faulty cell cycle, pursuing factors involved in the cell cycle is a promising avenue for cancer treatment,” noted Maquat.
Maquat and Elbarbary have filed a patent application for methods targeting Tudor-SN for the treatment and prevention of cancer. The findings appeared in the journal Science.