PHILADELPHIAReporting in Nature, scientists from Thomas Jefferson University have determined that a single protein called FADD controls multiple cell death pathways, a discovery that could lead to better, more targeted autoimmune disease and cancer drugs.
Twelve years ago, internationally-known immunologist Jianke Zhang, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Thomas Jefferson University, realized FADD, which stands for Fas-Associated protein with Death Domain, played an important role in embryonic development and the onset of some diseases, but he didn't know exactly why until now.
In the paper published online March 2, Dr. Zhang and researchers show this protein regulates not one but two types of cell deaths pivotal for embryo and disease development. It is now known that FADD causes apoptosis, the "healthy" cell death, while keeping necrosis, the "toxic" one, at bay.
Understanding this pathway is instrumental in developing drugs with selectivity and fewer side effects, said Dr. Zhang, a member of the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson,
"This work has direct impact on our understanding of diseases: cancer, autoimmune disease, immune-deficiency disease," he said. "This is the one gene that regulates these two processes in cells, so now we can find targeted drugs to control the cell death process."
The research suggests that with the absence or variation in expression of this one protein, an embryo may not develop properly or a person may develop disease later in life.
"This breakthrough is a testimony to Dr. Zhang's research acumen and dogged determination to solve a longstanding mystery regarding the regulation of cell death pathways," said Tim Manser, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Jefferson. "It is gratifying to know that Thomas Jefferson University provides the research infrastructure that allows outstan
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Thomas Jefferson University