Cutting off supply of a certain protein can stop tumor growth.
Brain cancer is one of the most devastating known illnesses, with causes unknown and average five-year survival rates of 33% in the United States. Even when treated, often at great risk to the patient’s neural functions, brain tumors still often return. Now, scientists at Washington University School of Medicine have found a way to slow or stop brain tumor growth by cutting off their supply of a certain protein, rendering them unable to nourish themselves and survive. They published their findings in Cell Reports, an open-access life sciences journal.
CDC20 protein is key to tumor growth.
Dr. Albert H. Kim, senior author of the research paper and assistant professor of neurological surgery at Washington University explains to us that the discovery of the protein “may help us attack the root of some of the deadliest brain tumors.” He focused mainly on glioblastoma, which is a type of brain cancer that typically leaves a patient with around 15 months left to live after diagnosis. The main option so far has usually been to surgically remove the brain tumors, but this is very risky because it can harm brain function irreparably. Kim studied these cancer cells, and found that they use a protein called SOX2. Another protein, CDC20, is needed to produce SOX2. Eliminating this other protein, CDC20, prevents the cell from expanding the tumor. According to Kim, the growth rate of some tumors deprived of CDC20 fell by 95% compared to those with normal CDC20 levels.
Patients with highest levels of CDC20 have least time to live.
Scientists also discovered that people with highest levels of the protein are the ones who die soonest after diagnosis. Combining this with Kim’s aforementioned discovery, his team quickly realized that the blocking of CDC20 could be instrumental in treating brain tumors. They are currently looking for a way to do so, possibly by RNA interference. There is widespread interest in this possible treatment method. Kim’s study received funding from the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society, the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation, the Concern Foundation, and the Duesenberg Research Fund.