Israeli Researchers Find Potential Cancer "Switch"

Published: July 20th 2010
in News » World

Diagram of first phase of cellular reproduction.

A common fat molecule that functions as a “switch” for cell growth in plants has been identified by Israeli researchers. They now suggest that the same mechanism can be used to switch off the process that leads to the growth of tumor cells in humans.


Prof. Shaul Yalovsky of Tel Aviv University (TAU) says that although plants and animals are obviously very different, they still share some similar biological traits. In his research, he located a fat molecule in plants that modulates a group of proteins (called ROPs) responsible for cell growth.


Proteins very similar to ROPs are also present in the human body; these proteins are involved in healing wounds, developing nerve cells in the brain, and providing the chemical signals that tell cancer when to metastasize, or spread from one part of the organism to another.


Researchers were able to use this mechanism in plants to reshape the plants’ cells, grow new tissues, and respond to the invasion of various bacteria and viruses.


How it functions is the ROPs bind to a molecule called GTP, which then breaks up into another molecule called GDP.


It is known in the plant sciences community that when bound to GDP, ROPs become inactive. Thus, together with his team, Yalovsky developed a second type of molecule that prevents ROP proteins from binding to the GTP molecule; this, in turn, generates an inhibitory effect.


With this knowledge, researchers believe they are now closer than ever to doing the same in human, effectively enabling them to “switch off” tumor growth.


"We've stumbled upon an ancient mechanism that regulates the function of these proteins, proteins which are found in both plants and humans," says Yalovsky.


According to scientists, this research could also be applied to agriculture, in order to reduce the need for chemical pesticides. The engineered molecule devised by researchers seems to elicit a response from the plants as though they were being attacked by infectious agents. The plants then react by creating a biological defense that protects them from infection.


Scientists thus remain very hopeful that the research eventually yields the positive results they anticipate.

Related articles: (science, research, tumor, cancer, plant cell)
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