SOURCE: University of Calgary

University of Calgary

February 01, 2017 10:30 ET

Molecular 'switch' in protein may stop the process that helps cancer spread

Discovery could lead to effective new treatments for patients, researchers say

CALGARY, AB--(Marketwired - February 01, 2017) - A discovery made at the University of Calgary shows potential for a new and different way to prevent cancer metastasis. In a study published today in Scientific Reports, Faculty of Science researchers from the University of Calgary have identified a 'molecular switch' in L-plastin, a calcium-binding protein known to play a significant role in tumour metastasis. By deregulating the molecular switch of L-plastin, the action of the invading cancerous cells was able to be blocked.

Modifying protein can stop cancer from spreading

Research has shown that nearly ninety per cent of cancer related deaths are due to tumour metastasis. Study co-author Hans Vogel, PhD, also appointed to the Cumming School of Medicine, says the discovery will allow researchers to look at cancer treatment from a completely new perspective, "cancer is typically treated by going after the original tumour," says Vogel. "Our research may offer a way to try and fight cancer by interfering in metastasis -- a completely different process that oncologists and surgeons are still learning how to deal with."

Neuroscience graduate student and co-author Katharine Jensen says understanding the structure of this protein is an important step towards the development of future drug treatments. "With the 3D structure of the molecular switch portion of L-plastin in hand, we can now start on the process of designing or developing new drugs."

By analyzing the 3D protein structure, the researchers discovered a new structure that functions as the 'molecular switch'. After removing the switch through modifying the L-plastin protein, the researchers found that the protein could no longer function properly.

"Using an inhibitor peptide, we prevented the molecular switch from coming together in its usual way and the regulation of actin bundling was blocked," explains Faculty of Science research associate and co-author Hiroaki Ishida, PhD. "Actin bundling occurs when tumour cells start to metastasize and form the tentacles that allow the cancer cells to move around and spread throughout the body."

Findings present exciting potential for clinical applications

"Our study shows that this part of the L-plastin protein can be used as a new anti-cancer target. If the same process could be accomplished using a drug in humans, we should be able to suppress the ability of tumour cells to become metastatic and spread," says Vogel, who notes that these findings could lead to exciting developments in cancer treatments.

The research team has already shown that their approach works in cultured cells, and is moving forward with further testing.

Co-author Dr. Eric Hyndman, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at the CSM and a urologist at the Prostate Cancer Centre at Rockyview General Hospital in Calgary says that the fundamental nature of the cell process means that resulting treatments could be applied to different kinds of cancers. "Metastasis happens on all kinds of different malignancies," he explains. Whether the cancerous cells are in the prostate or the kidneys, they still have to gain motility before landing somewhere else and causing problems for the patient."

"This would present a target site for future drugs down the road that can block metastasis using a relatively new mechanism."

The study was funded by the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute, the Alberta Cancer Foundation, and a special grant from the Prostate Cancer Centre at the Rockyview Hospital in Calgary.

About the University of Calgary

The University of Calgary is making tremendous progress on its journey to become one of Canada's top five research universities, where research and innovative teaching go hand in hand, and where we fully engage the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is called Eyes High, inspired by the university's Gaelic motto, which translates as 'I will lift up my eyes.'

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Contact Information

  • Media Contact

    Erin Guiltenane
    Communications Advisor
    Faculty of Science | University of Calgary
    2500 University Drive NW, Calgary AB
    T: 403.210.7584
    eguilten@ucalgary.ca