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A turn-off for cancer
Date:6/7/2010

Although plants and animals are very different organisms, they share a surprising number of biological mechanisms. A plant biologist at Tel Aviv University says that one of these mechanisms may be the answer for turning off cancer growth in humans.

Prof. Shaul Yalovsky, of the Molecular Biology and Ecology of Plants Department at Tel Aviv University, has identified a "switch" that can turn on cell growth in plants. Now, in a laboratory setting, he can apply the mechanism to reshape cells, grow new tissues, and respond to bacterial or viral invaders.

The switch is actually a fat molecule that modulates a group of proteins called ROPs. Reported in the scientific journal Current Biology, Prof. Yalovsky's research group, in collaboration with Prof. Yoav Henis and Dr. Joel Hirsch of TAU's Departments of Neurobiology and Biochemistry, has determined that this fat molecule is required for ROP activity. Proteins very similar to ROPs exist in humans and provide chemical signals that tell cancer when to metastasize. Now that they know how to regulate ROPs in plants, the researchers believe they are one step away from turning this ROP-like switch off in humans a process which could prevent tumor growth.

An ancient secret revealed

"We've stumbled upon an ancient mechanism that regulates the function of these proteins, proteins which are found in both plants and humans," says Prof. Yalovsky, explaining that this mechanism already regulates the immune response to pathogen invaders in the human body. ROP-like proteins are also involved in wound healing and development of nerve cells in the brain.

"When these proteins are turned 'on,' they can initiate processes like cell division and growth," says Prof. Yalovsky. "Through our genetic engineering, these proteins could be manipulated in humans to speed up tissue healing, or turned off to slow or stop the growth of tumors."

ROPs bind to a small molecul
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Contact: George Hunka
ghunka@aftau.org
212-742-9070
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Source:Eurekalert  

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