For nearly a decade, scientists have been trying to fully understand a particular communication pathway inside of cells that contributes to many malignant brain and prostate cancers. While scientists have identified elements of this pathway, other key components have remained a mystery. Researchers at Whitehead Institute now have discovered a missing puzzle piece, a finding that may present drug makers with a significant new cancer target.
"We believe that we have identified a component that researchers have been looking for since 1996," says Whitehead Associate Member David Sabatini, who is also an Assistant Professor of Biology at MIT.
At the heart of this new research is a protein called Akt, an important player in the regulation of cell division and survival. Abnormally high activation of Akt has long been implicated in a variety of cancers. If Akt travels to the cell membrane, it is switched on and promotes cell division, often contributing to tumor growth as a result. However, as long as it stays within the cell cytoplasm, it remains relatively inactive. Thats because the tumor-suppressor protein PTEN keeps Akt in check by destroying lipids in the cell membrane that normally draw Akt to the surface. In a sense, PTEN keeps a leash on Akt and thus suppresses cell division.
David Cameron | EurekAlert!
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