Cancer researchers have identified an “obscure” protein as a possible key in the fight against the disease.
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is an aggressive form of cancer that affects the body’s white blood cells.
The condition is resistant to most treatments and little is known about how it can be treated effectively.
However, Professor Christopher Vakoc and PhD student Sofya Polyanskaya from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in the United States found that AML cells depend on a protein called SCP4 to survive in the body.
This discovery has alerted researchers to a possible new therapeutic approach to the deadly disease.
SCP4 is a phosphatase, a type of protein that regulates cell activity by removing phosphates from other proteins.
Another type of protein called kinase will restore the lost phosphates.
According to the researchers, the number of phosphates added or taken away from a protein determines its activity.
Ms. Polyanskaya discovered that SCP4 can pair with one of two similar kinases called STK35 and PDIK1L.
The researchers went on to explain that turning off the gene that produces SCP4 kills the cancer cells because acute myeloid leukemia cells need the phosphatase and kinases to work together to survive.
Little is known about this protein and Ms. Polyanskaya was surprised to find only 12 scientific papers mentioning it.
None of these publications discussed the role of protein in the fight against cancer.
She said, “When you come across something that has never been studied before or not understood at all about cancer, it is very interesting.”
The researchers believe that SCP4 could be the control center for an important metabolic pathway that AML cells depend on.
Therefore, drugs and therapies directed against the SCP4 protein could starve and kill the cancer cells while allowing other healthy blood cells to grow.
Since other phosphatases have already been targeted, this approach is a promising step in the right direction.
Ms. Polyanskaya admitted that while the decision to examine SCP4 was a risky one, it paid off after its role in leukemia was discovered.
The notable researcher said, “Other researchers can use this system and tweak some other things to really try to pinpoint the exact path.
“This work underlines the importance of basic research for the discovery of future therapies.”
The results were published in the journal Cell Reports.