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Could a protein be vital in diagnosing cancer?

August 15, 2022

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) have helped shed light on a ‘Jekyll and Hyde protein’ in a study that could play a crucial role in diagnosing and treating cancer and brain disorders.

Researchers have shed light on a protein that could play a crucial role in diagnosing and treating cancer and brain disorders.

Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) is a molecular pathway that facilitates cell migration during healthy brain development, whereby stem cells give birth to neurons which then migrate to specific parts of the brain.

EMT is vital for early development processes and wound healing, and a defect in the process is known to be behind several neurodevelopmental disorders.

Now the research team has identified a particular protein, ZNF827, as a critical regulator of EMT.

Their study, published in Nature Cell Biology, has revealed that the protein’s molecular pathway is employed for normal migration of newborn neurons during brain development, and is also exploited by tumour cells to gain migration potential for metastasis, whereby cancer spreads throughout the body. Metastasis can cause chemotherapy-resistant secondary tumours, paving the way for aggressive relapses and unpredictable patient outcomes.

The QUB scientists were part of an international team made up of researchers from the University of Montpellier, Karolinska Institutet, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, among others.

Their discovery is expected to have a transformative impact on the fundamental understanding of cancer metastasis and brain development.

The study’s lead author, Dr Vijay Tiwari from the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University, is optimistic that the research could lead to early diagnosis and targeted treatment for several cancers and brain disorders.

Speaking of their findings, Dr Tiwari said “By identifying key regulators of these pathways, we open new opportunities for a therapeutic intervention against cancer and a better understanding of neurodevelopmental disorders involving defects in brain development.”

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, with approximately 375,000 new cases being diagnosed in the UK every year.

Related: Hope for ‘game-changing’ brain tumour treatment

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