Researchers unmask protein as villain in pancreatic, brain cancer growth

The protein CPEB4 appears to set off legions of genes that spur the growth of pancreatic and brain cancer, and possibly other kinds of tumors, scientists in Spain have discovered.

Knowing what CPEB4 is capable of also makes it a drug target to watch. Those same researchers--from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and the Institut de Recerca Hospital del Mar, Barcelona--are studying potential CPEB4 inhibitors that could become cancer treatments.

Specifically, researchers looking at brain and pancreas tissue in mice with human cancer cells determined that expression of the protein in an incorrect site triggered an expansive process, leading, in turn, to the expression of unsuitable amounts of so-called normal genes and the resulting tumors. They also realized that CPEB4 is found in tumor cells but not in healthy ones. And they were able to reduce tumor size by as much as 80% by decreasing CPEB4 levels in cancer cells. This means that at least in mice, all signs point to CPEB4 as offering the potential of a highly targeted cancer treatment with a small number of side effects, the researchers note. Of course, the results must also work in humans, which remains to be seen.

"The clinical applications are very promising, although intensive research is needed to identify inhibitory molecules and to test them in various models before determining their clinical potential, and, in this case, their use in patients," researchers Pilar Navarro and Raúl Méndez said in a statement.

Interested in the details? They're published in the latest issue of Nature Medicine.

- here's the release
- check out the Nature Medicine abstract

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