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A blocked ‘nose’ might stop cancer cell growth

Scientists have revealed that a set of proteins act as the cell’s ‘nose’ to ‘sniff out’ molecules that trigger cell growth.

Cancer Research UK scientists at the University of Oxford have investigated the role in human cancer cells of a group of proteins, proton-assisted amino acid transporters (PATs), that carry amino acids through cell walls. Blocking these proteins stops cancer cell growth but seems to have less of an effect on healthy cells, which might rely less on this family of proteins.

Cell growth is completely dependent on messenger molecules ‘sniffing out’ the presence of amino acids. The team discovered that the PAT proteins are a key part of the amino acid sensing system inside the cell, which controls the growth regulator protein mTOR. If mTOR is switched off, cancer cells cannot grow.

Blocking the activity of PAT proteins halts cancer cell growth but seems to have much less of an effect on the growth of other cells, suggesting PATs could provide potent targets for drug development to stop tumour growth.

Lead author Dr Deborah Goberdhan said: ‘By blocking the activity of the cell’s nose, we could stop cancer cells growing. Excitingly, we’ve started to see that blocking this activity doesn’t stop healthy cells going about their business as normal, so it could provide a potential target for new drugs.’

Dr Phil L’Huillier, Cancer Research Technology’s director of business management, added: ‘We are investigating partnership opportunities with pharmaceutical companies to explore ways to block the PATs and potentially develop new cancer treatments.’

Further reading

Heublein, S. et al. Proton-assisted amino acid transporters are conserved regulators of proliferation and amino acid-dependent mTORC1 activation. Oncogene.

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