Research highlight

NUI Galway research may lead to cancer drugs

NUI GALWAY scientists have identified a protein in cancer cells that could lead to the development of new treatments for a number of illnesses.

The team led by Prof Afshin Samali at NUI Galway’s (NUIG) department of biochemistry has found that a protein produced in stressed cells interacts with a stress sensor that allows cells to survive in intense conditions.

Prof Samali believes that understanding this interaction may help scientists to modify cancer cells to ensure they no longer survive exposure in such conditions.

He says this could have significant implications in the development of new cancer drugs, which would block the protein, called Hsp70, to encourage tumour cell death.

By contrast, in diseases where there is too much cell death, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, increasing the levels of Hsp70 could help these cells to survive stressful conditions, Prof Samali says.

The findings, due to be published next week in the online scientific journal PLoS Biology , describe identification of the new protein-protein interaction.

Prof Samali told The Irish Times he had been working on Hsp70 since 1993. “Healthy cells are not usually under stress, but unhealthy cells, such as cancer cells, are often under considerable stress because they grow rapidly in places where they are not supposed to grow,” he said. “When a cell is under these stressful conditions, the stress protein Hsp70 is activated to help the cell . . . By interfering with this protein-protein interaction, we hope to develop a new class of anti-cancer drugs. This work was funded by Science Foundation Ireland and will have a significant impact on cancer research and drug design.”

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