'Super Mouse' helps scientists discover new ways to prevent cancer

Washington, July 30 (ANI): Researchers including three Indian origin have created a super mouse, which has helped spawn plenty of new research into preventing and/or treating many types of cancer.

Back in 2007, cancer researcher Vivek Rangnekar and his team announced that they discovered a gene - known as Par-4 -that specifically kills cancer cells without killing normal cells.

Rangnekar's team used this gene to develop cancer-resistant mice that become known as "super mice" for their ability to stay healthy and tumor-free compared to normal mice.

Since that initial discovery, researchers across the country have built upon Rangnekar's discovery, including a team at the University of Pennsylvania, who recently published findings on how Par-4 downregulation affects breast cancer recurrence.

UK researchers including Rangnekar as well as Tripti Shrestha-Bhattarai and Nikhil Hebbar showed that in women who experienced breast cancer relapse, the Par-4 protein was suppressed.

These low levels of Par-4 allowed the cancerous cells to survive and multiply even after a full course of treatment. Conversely, tumor cells that have high levels of Par-4 are eliminated by apoptosis (cell death) following treatment. These new findings may provide insight into deciding which patients are at the highest risk for cancer recurrence.

Rangnekar, associate director for the UK Markey Cancer Center, said what this tells us is that low Par-4 may act as a predictor of breast cancer recurrence.

He asserted that this is important, as although this group studied only breast cancer, their observations may be relevant to recurrence in a broad range of cancer types because Par-4 is a general tumor suppressor gene.

Using Par-4 levels as a biomarker prior to treatment - and knowing whether that patient is at an elevated risk of recurrence - would give physicians another tool to use in determining the best course of treatment. Additionally, their findings may provide the basis for the development of novel treatment strategies for breast cancer.

Other 'tumor suppressor' genes exist, Rangnekar said, but what made Par-4 so special is that it is not mutated as frequently as other known suppressors, and it's "selective" in its actions in that Par-4 will only kill cancer cells and not normal cells.

Par-4 can become 'suppressed' or inactivated, leading to tumor re-growth, but Par-4 can be 'activated' again - and one of the next major steps is developing a safe and effective way to activate Par-4 in the cancerous cells.

Rangnekar said that if Par-4 is still present in the cells, the strategy should be to try and utilize that Par-4, so as to restore it's apoptotic function and bring about apoptosis of the cancer cells.

The study has been published in Cancer Cell. (ANI)

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