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New fundamental biology may aid cancer treatments

Copyright: A. Kielkowska and adapted by T. Chessa

News from: The Babraham Institute

New research represents a promising step towards better understanding of a key cancer gene. A long-running collaboration between researchers at the Babraham Institute, Cambridge and the AstraZeneca IMED Biotech Unit reveals new insights into how the PTEN gene may control cell growth and behaviour and how its loss contributes to the development and advancement of certain cancers.

PTEN is reportedly the second most commonly altered gene in human cancers. The study led by Dr Len Stephens and Dr Phill Hawkins and published in the journal Molecular Cell, reveals why loss of the PTEN gene has such an impact on many people with prostate cancer, as well as in some breast cancers. These results, which also include work from Akita University, Japan, and contributions from GSK could help to identify patients likely to benefit from novel targeted therapies.

PTEN is known as a tumour suppressor gene meaning that it typically slows the growth of cells and its loss can lead to cancer. By regulating the levels of a chemical PTEN helps to limit cell growth and so prevents cancer.

Yet, the new paper shows that this is only part of the story. The team at the Institute supported by GSK and together with AstraZeneca have identified another way that PTEN may prevent uncontrolled cell growth. PTEN can also reduce the levels of another similar molecule that it is thought may be able to alter the activity of the AKT protein, a key regulator of cell growth. It may also influence several other proteins that regulate the process of invasion; how cancer cells spread and move through the body.

Speaking about the research, Dr Hawkins said: “Our work suggests that studying regulated processes may reveal why PTEN is such a powerful tumour suppressor and may also help us to identify new therapeutic targets in PTEN-mutated cancers.”

IMED Biotech Unit scientist at AstraZeneca, Dr Sabina Cosulich says; “Having such an open collaboration was essential for addressing a scientific puzzle of great significance to cancer research. Our team members are in regular contact and frequently work alongside each other. Hearing about the lipid biochemistry research from the Babraham Institute team and realising how we could translate its potential from an oncology perspective was a great moment for all of us!”

The research was supported by BBSRC through an Institute Strategic Programme Grant for Cell Signalling, AstraZeneca, the Wellcome Trust, GSK and the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development.


Tags: The Babraham Institute fundamental bioscience genetics human health press release