[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 11-Jul-2013
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Contact: Charlotte Woods
c.woods@soton.ac.uk
0238-059-2128
University of Southampton

Scientists develop ground-breaking new method of 'starving' cancer cells

IMAGE: This is Chris Proud at work in the laboratory.

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A University of Southampton Professor, in collaboration with colleagues at the BC Cancer Agency Research Centre, have discovered a novel way of killing cancer cells. The research, recently published in the journal Cell, has found a new potential treatment for cancer, which leaves the body's healthy cells undamaged, unlike traditional therapies such as radiotherapy.

Chris Proud, Professor of Cellular Regulation in Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton says: "Cancer cells grow and divide much more rapidly than normal cells, meaning they have a much higher demand for and are often starved of, nutrients and oxygen. We have discovered that a cellular component, eEF2K, plays a critical role in allowing cancer cells to survive nutrient starvation, whilst normal, healthy cells do not usually require eEF2K in order to survive. Therefore, by blocking the function of eEF2K, we should be able to kill cancer cells, without harming normal, healthy cells in the process."

Almost all cells in the human body contain the same basic components, meaning that to attack one of them in a cancer cell, that component will also be affected in normal cells. This study has identified a specific protein that is not necessary in normal cells but seems to be important to the survival of cancerous cells. A treatment that could block this protein could represent a significant breakthrough in the future of cancer treatment.

Traditional chemotherapy and radiotherapy cause damage to healthy cells, and other more targeted treatments are usually only effective for individual types of cancer. Contrastingly, this new development does not damage healthy cells and could also be used to treat a wide variety of different cancers. Professor Proud and the team are now working with other labs, including pharmaceutical companies, to develop and test drugs that block eEF2K, which could potentially be used to treat cancer in the future.

Professor Proud is also researching the origins of cancer. He says: "Protein synthesis – the creation of proteins within cells –is a fundamental process that enables cells to grow, divide and function. If it goes wrong, it can contribute to the development of cancer. We are interested in how defects in this process can cause cancers and other diseases."

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Notes to editors:

1. Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton's world-leading research in the areas of molecular and cellular bioscience, biomedical sciences (particularly neuroscience and development), ecology and the environment focuses on addressing today's key challenges. The range of biological sciences degrees on offer comprise programmes in biochemistry, biology, biomedical sciences, pharmacology and zoology - covering the whole spectrum and helping students to secure a rewarding future career. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship across a wide range of subjects in engineering, science, social sciences, health and humanities.

2. The BC Cancer Agency is part of the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), providing province-wide specialty healthcare. The BC Cancer Agency provides a comprehensive cancer control program for the people of British Columbia by working with community partners to deliver a range of oncology services, including prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, research, education, supportive care, rehabilitation and palliative care. For more information, visit http://www.bccancer.ca.

3. With over 23,000 students, around 5,000 staff, and an annual turnover well in excess of £435 million, the University of Southampton is acknowledged as one of the country's top institutions for engineering, computer science and medicine. We combine academic excellence with an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to research, supporting a culture that engages and challenges students and staff in their pursuit of learning.

The University is also home to a number of world-leading research centres including the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, the Optoelectronics Research Centre, the Institute for Life Sciences, the Web Science Trust and Doctoral training Centre, the Centre for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, the Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute and is a partner of the National Oceanography Centre at the Southampton waterfront campus.

For more information:

Charlotte Woods, Media Relations, University of Southampton, Tel 023 8059 2128, email C.Woods@soton.ac.uk

http://www.soton.ac.uk/mediacentre/

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