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Researchers Discover New Target for Mesothelioma Therapies

One of the most challenging aspects of treating particularly aggressive cancers such as mesothelioma lies in finding a way is to stop its rapid-fire growth. Now a group of researchers investigating gene splicing may have identified a “new route toward therapies” that can stop this process.

Scientists from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine have determined that there is a key molecule called RBM4 that is in short supply in cancers such as lung cancer and breast cancer. RBM4 is a tumor suppressor that controls gene splicing and causes cells to die, so it makes sense that its levels are dramatically decreased in highly aggressive cancers. Gene splicing is a highly complex process that can take place in cells: it changes the DNA of a cell and is thought to play a key role in the rapid expansion of tumors. A great deal of innovative research is being done to identify which proteins are responsible for this activity, with the idea that once they are identified they can be targeted for gene therapy.

According to Zefeng Want, PhD and associate professor in the department of pharmacology, as well as a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, “This is a whole new ballgame in terms of gene regulation in cancer.” They found that RBM4’s role is essential because it not only controls splicing but also controls other genes, including Bcl-x and SRSF1. Each of these plays a specific and important role within a cancer cell. SRSF1 is often found in high quantities in cancer cells but is inhibited by RBM4, where Bcl-X regulates programmed cell death.

Wang says that the better understanding that the group now has of the way that the protein operates “means that the level of rBM4 in cancer patients can actually be used to predict their chances of survival.” They say that “this study establishes RBM4 as a tumor suppressor with therapeutic potential and clinical values as a prognostic factor. Where we go from here is trying to find out what shuts down RBM4,” Want explains. “we want to find out if we can target RBM4 and manipulate it. We will probably have to target more than one thing to treat cancer patients, but we think RBM4 could be a very important one.”

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer is an independent writer, editor and proofreader. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Her dreams of a writing career were diverted by a need to pay her bills. She spent a few years providing copy for a major retailer, then landed a lucrative career in advertising sales. With college bills for all three of her kids paid, she left corporate America for a return to her original goal of writing. She specializes in providing content for websites and finds tremendous enjoyment in the things she learns while doing her research. Her specific areas of interest include health and fitness, medical research, and the law.

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