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January 9, 2019 2:54 pm

Tel Aviv University Researchers Discover New Protein That Could Greatly Aid Cancer Treatment

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Metastatic melanoma cancer cells: Photo: National Institutes of Health via Wikimedia Commons.

Tel Aviv University researchers have discovered a protein that could significantly aid the treatment of cancer.

According to Hebrew news site Walla, the protein Ubiquilin 4 was found in particularly high levels in advanced tumors, which could help determine the course of treatment for patients with late stage cancers.

Dr. Ron Yachimovich and Dr. Yael Ziv, in collaboration with a doctoral student and Prof. Christian Reinhardt of the University of Cologne, conducted their research in Prof. Yossi Shilo’s laboratory at the Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine.

They discovered that Ubiquilin 4 plays a role in the breakdown of cell proteins and is part of a system that repairs fragments of DNA. The finding that it is present at high levels in advanced tumors could aid in diagnosis and increase chances of recovery.

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“In recent years, preserving the stability of the genome has become a central issue in biomedical research as an essential component in maintaining our health,” Shilo said.

Pointing out that human cells are “continually attacked and damaged by a variety of factors,” Shilo stated that the question is “why and how most of us remain healthy most of the time, thanks to the sophisticated defense mechanisms operated in the healthy cell, which are constantly engaged in repairing DNA damage; in other words, maintaining the stability of the genome.”

Shilo’s laboratory discovered a protein heavily involved in repairing DNA fragments, called ATM, in 1995.

“Since then we have been investigating the principle of ATM operation and the way in which it mobilizes action,” he said, thus leading to the new discovery.

The researchers compared the level of Ubiquilin 4 in samples of malignant tumors to healthy tissue from the same patients, and found that it was much higher in the cancerous cells, particularly in advanced stages. Such cells are both more likely to metastasize and are more resistant to chemotherapy and other treatments.

“The findings showed that although Ubiquilin 4 participates in maintaining the stability of the genome, an increased amount of it actually destabilizes the response mechanism to DNA damage, which is built on fine and precise brakes and balances,” Shilo stated.

Although tumors with high-protein levels can be resistant to some treatments, the research has “shown that such tumors are likely to respond better to other chemotherapy treatments, which actually become more effective in high-protein cells,” he added.

As a result, identifying Ubiquilin 4 and other proteins can help steer the process of cancer treatment in a more effective manner.

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