March 8 (UPI) -- Researchers have discovered a modified protein that reflects a difference between cancer and non-cancer cells, which could lead to new ways to deal with the disease.
Researchers from Canada, Britain and Switzerland discovered a modified protein that acts as a "stop sign" to prevent healthy cells from sorting material in the way they were designed to, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Nature Communications. The key component is the addition of a phosphate that helps determine how proteins attach to membranes.
Scientists called the protein PIP-stop because it keeps molecules from interacting with lipid molecules called polactin-induced protein, or PIP. In essence, the cells are overused by cancerous ones.
"We have discovered that breast cancer, leukemia, lymphoma and neuroblastoma cells have too many PIP-stops," project leader Michael Overduin, a University of Alberta cancer researcher and professor of biochemistry said in a university release. "This would upset protein function, and opens up a new avenue for developing drugs that block PIP-stop formation by kinase enzymes."
The researchers figured out a way to sort proteins to their proper locations within the cell.
They used powerful magnets in Britain and Edmonton, Canada, to detect signals from protein structures -- down to the atomic level.
The researchers focused on the protein structure to observe how the PIP-stop blocked the protein's function.
In samples from cancer patients, they had too many PIP-stops and unregulated growth could occur in tumor cells.
Similar PIP-stops also were overused in other proteins in other cancer types, leading to tumor growth.
"Our goal now is to design inhibitors for the overactive kinases that create PIP-stops, and to use this information to design drug molecules that block the progression of cancers, particularly those which lack effective treatments," Overduin said.