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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Scientists find target for possible cure for cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, one out of every three people you know will face cancer at some point in their life. Luckily, a recent study performed at UC Berkeley and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows some promise of a possible cure. Daniel Nomura, a professor of the Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology Department and the main investigator of the study, shed new light on the importance of lipids in the development of cancer.

Although previous research studies have helped scientists to understand that lipids metabolize differently in cancer cells than in normal cells, the degree of such variation and its ramifications were unexplored.

“While it’s been known since the 1950s that a particular class of lipids called ‘ether lipids’ were heightened in levels in human tumors, it wasn’t known whether these ether lipids were just associated with, or were drivers of cancer aggressiveness,” Nomura said in an email.

     The study focused on AGPS, the major enzyme involved in making ether lipids. Nomura and his team injected two groups of mice with cancerous cells. In one group, the AGPS enzyme remained active and in the other, the enzyme was inactivated. In the group with the active enzyme, cancer cells remained aggressive, while in the inactive group tumors were practically non-existent. In doing so, it helped to prove that lipid membranes can be responsible for signaling and fueling cancer growth in other cells.

Daniel Benjamin, a fourth-year graduate student in Nomura’s lab, is responsible for designing and implementing projects for studies such as this one.

“What I found to be extremely challenging was trying to fully understand the extent to which one small change to a cancer cell — in this case, disabling an enzyme (AGPS) that synthesizes ether lipids — could have such extensive and widespread effects on many different aspects of cancer cell metabolism,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin said that the metabolism of a cancer cell is somewhat analogous to a complex chain of dominoes.

“What we essentially did in this study was remove one of those dominoes,” Benjamin said.

The results of the study confirmed that when AGPS levels were high in the mice, the cells turned cancerous. They also found that the inactivation of the AGPS made the cancer cells less viable.

It is no secret that cancer continues to impact the lives of many individuals, such as second-year political science major Stephanie Bonham whose father was diagnosed with brain cancer.

“Watching my dad die of cancer forced me to come to terms with mortality at a young age,” Bonham said. “His death also caused my family members to distance themselves from one another. It wasn’t until our family bonded with my stepdad, who had experienced the same tragedy, that we finally came together again.”

Research like this promises to help make such tragedies a thing of the past. Unfortunately, according to Benjamin, AGPS inhibitors are not a magic bullet to cure all types of cancer, but when used in combination with chemotherapy, they represent a significant step forward in the battle with this disease.

JASBIR KAUR can be reached at science@theaggie.org.



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