TECH

Cancer Research Breakthrough Unveiled As Scientists Learn How To 'Turn Off' Notorious Protein

03/12/2015 11:16 GMT | Updated 03/12/2015 11:59 GMT

A notorious cancer-causing protein has finally met its match thanks to a discovery unveiled by scientists in Canada.

After years of trying to find a way to stop the Ras protein - "responsible for 30 percent of all cancers and indirectly involved in virtually all cancers" - researchers have figured out the solution lies with another protein known as SHP2.

Think of it as a fighting-fire-with-fire mechanism.

cancer cell

“For several decades, scientists have tried to turn off a protein called Ras,” said Michael Ohh of the University of Toronto, who was one of the study's authors.

“But despite their efforts, we ultimately haven’t seen much progress. In fact, it’s been coined the ‘undruggable’ protein.”

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The genes that code for Ras (remember genes are an instruction manual telling our body what proteins to make) are known as oncogenes.

A helpful analogy from the American Cancer Society is to think of a cell as a car and oncogene as the accelerator that causes the cell to divide out of control. And one of the keys that turns this process on is the Ras protein.

What Ohh and his team have found however, is that SHP2 can work like a switch and turn off Ras -- easing the pressure on the accelerator if you like.

In a study published in Nature Communications, they "tested this on mice with glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive type of brain cancer."

“The inhibitors’ results were incredible — we were shocked,” explained Ohh. “Nothing has had the same effect.”

What they found is the tumours reduced by 80 per cent.

As with any breakthrough, this finding still has to be put through the rigours of a clinical trial. Before this stage however, the team plan to see if SHP2 is effective in mice that have human pancreatic tumours.

Commenting on what this would mean for patients in the longterm, one of the paper's authors, Yoshihito Kano,said "I see a lot of patients with pancreatic cancer.

“These patients usually die within one year, even with chemotherapy, so this drug could potentially change my patients’ lives.”