Scientists have identified a new way to slow down the growth of cancer cells, an advance that may lead to novel treatment options against the deadly disease. Researchers from the University of Rochester in the US identified a protein called Tudor-SN that is important in the “preparatory” phase of the cell cycle – the period when the cell gets ready to divide. When scientists eliminated this protein from cells, using the gene editing technology CRISPR-Cas9, cells took longer to gear up for division. 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 study author and research assistant professor at Rochester.
Elbarbary said that there are existing compounds that block Tudor-SN that could be good candidates for a possible therapy. According to senior study author Lynne E Maquat, 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 the presence of microRNAs 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,” said Maquat.