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Aurora magazine

Discovery of the protein that accelerates tumors

Behind the ultra rapid growth of certain tumors is the Nuak2 protein. The discovery comes from the team of Dr. Liliana Attisano, University of Toronto. Combined with genetic testing, it could pave the way for new and personalized treatments.

Nuak2 is a protein that interfaces with the Yap and Taz pair of molecules. Thanks to its action, the molecules modify some genes of cancer stem cells. They thus stimulate proliferation and increase the rate of tumor development. Furthermore, they stimulate the action of the gene that encodes the same protein Nuak2, giving way to a vicious circle. The overactive version of Nuak2 raises the protein levels, stimulating more molecules and influencing more cancer stem cells.

If you find a way to stop the mechanism, you could also stop the progress of the tumor. Researchers therefore aim to develop molecules that inhibit Nuak2. Once the production of the protein is blocked, the vicious circle would be interrupted and would wane. For the time being they have achieved good results in vitro and on animal models. It will take some time to get to the therapies on the man, but the road seems the right one.

If all goes well, in about ten years we will have a drug that inhibits the gene. Meanwhile, genetic tests can still give a big hand. The presence of Nuak2 is in fact a clear warning signal. In cases where it is present, it is already clear that the tumor will be likely to be aggressive and to be dealt with quickly.