Scientists from the University of Toronto have discovered a protein called NUAK2, which is released by cancer cells to increase their multiplication and whose incidence in tumors is correlated with a poor prognosis of the illness. According to those in charge of the study, blocking the protein breaks the vicious circle by which cancer is reinforcing itself.
According to the study’s report, recently issued in the Nature Communications journal, scientists say that shutting down NUAK2 production stalls the proliferation of cancer cells and boosts expectations for the development of new cancer therapy.
“We looked at bladder cancer and found that a subset of patients has high levels of NUAK2 protein in their tumors, which also became high-grade tumors,” explains Liliana Attisano, the leading author of the study.
Cancer-promoting proteins known as YAP and TAZ are particularly active in most cancers, and they function by binding to the DNA to trigger the genes that support cancer cells progression. NUAK2 is one of the elements activated by YAP and TAZ.
Cancer cells proliferation can be halted by blocking NUAK2
Since YAP/TAZ are involved in numerous cancers, as well as the aggressive forms of breast and bladder cancer, the scientists speculated whether NUAK2 was also heavily implicated in cancer cells proliferation. They discovered that NUAK2 is present in increased levels in certain tumors, particularly in patients with aggressive cancers.
However, when the scientists blocked NUAK2 production, YAP and TAZ could no more access the DNA, so breaking the vicious circle which ensures the cancer cells proliferation.
“If you check the patient’s tumors and they present high levels of NUAK2 protein, we could treat them with inhibitors” to stop this protein’s production mechanisms halting the cancer progress and promoting for new therapies. The study, conducted by the researchers from the Univerity of Toronto, is the first who literally found a way to block the vicious circle cancer cells use to multiply.