Researchers at Tel Aviv University may have found the mechanism that controls the process of metastasis in cancer.
Professor Shaul Yalovsky of the Molecular Biology and Ecology of Plants Department reported on his project, conducted in collaboration with Professor Yoav Henis and Dr. Joel Hirsch of TAU's Departments of Neurobiology and Biochemistry, in the scientific journal Current Biology.
To put it simply, the research team identified a “switch” that can turn on cell growth in plants – actually a fat molecule that modulates a group of proteins called ROPs.
Proteins that are very similar to ROPs exist in humans, and broadcast chemical signals telling cancer cells when to metastasize.
This mechanism also already regulates the immune response to pathogen invaders in the human body. ROP-like proteins are also involved in wound healing and development of nerve cells in the brain, according to the team.
“When these proteins are turned 'on,' they can initiate cell division and growth,” says Professor Yalovsky. “Through our genetic engineering, these proteins could be manipulated in humans to speed up tissue healing, or turned off to slow or stop the growth of tumors.”