Washington: Scientists have figured out a new way to kill cancer cells by disabling a protein known as fortilin, which promotes their unbridled growth.
Fortilin does so by neutering (removing) protein p53, which actually suppresses cancer.
This finding potentially paves the way for treating a range of tumours and atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries, with plaque build-up), which p53 also helps prevent.
"The p53 protein is a critical defence against cancer because it activates genes that induce apoptosis, or the death of cells," said Ken Fujise, director cardiology division, University of Texas Medical Branch, who led the study.
Fujise and his team used animal models to demonstrate that fortilin inhibits p53 from activating genes, such as BAX and Noxa, that facilitate cell death. Thus, cells that would be killed are allowed to proliferate, the Journal of Biological Chemistry reports.
"When normal cells become cancer cells, our bodies` natural biological response is to activate p53, which eliminates the hopelessly damaged cells," said Fujise, according to a Texas statement.
"This process explains why the majority of people are able to stay cancer-free for most of their lives," he said.
"Conversely, mutated p53 genes are seen in more than half of all human cancers, making them the most frequently observed genetic abnormality in cancer," said Fujise.
According to Fujise, now scientists can begin exploring compounds that could modulate fortilin`s activity on p53.
Such a compound would be a powerful chemotherapy agent and, because p53 inhibition has also been associated with atherosclerosis, it could also protect against coronary disease and its many complications, including heart attack and stroke.