South Korean researchers have discovered a new protein that can restore cancer cells into normal cells by utilizing a technology of systems biology. As suppressing this protein can be effective in converting cancer cells into normal ones without anticancer treatments, the new technology is expected to be utilized as a new treatment for conquering cancer.
The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) announced on Jan. 9 that its research team, led by Cho Kwang-hyun, professor of Department of Biotech and Brain Engineering, discovered a key agent that returns colon cancer cells to normal cells through systems biology research method, and then identified it through molecular cell experiments.
Currently, chemotherapy, a type of cancer treatments, is widely used to prevent cancer cells from rapidly dividing. However, it kills even normal cells and causes various side effects such as vomiting, hair loss and diarrhea. In addition, “target therapy,” which is designed to kill only cancer cells, and “immune therapy” that uses the immunity system, are applied to a limited number of patients, and they have a problem that tolerance develops in long-term treatments.
The research team proposed a new treatment for converting cancer cells into normal cells and found five key agents, which turn cancer cells into normal cells, and epigenetic regulator “SETDB1” by analyzing gene regulatory networks of colon cancer cells.
And then, the team confirmed through molecular cell experiments that cancer cells are converted to normal cells when SETDB1 is suppressed. When SETDB1 was suppressed in colon cancer cells, the cells stopped dividing and showed gene expression patterns of normal colon cells. In other words, when SETDB1, which is specifically activated in cancer cells, is suppressed, the cancer cells can be returned to normal cells.
The research team observed that colon cancer patients with colon cancer cells with high expressions of SETDB1 had a worse prognosis, and when the expression of SETDB1 is suppressed in patient-derived colon cancer organoids (three-dimensional organ analogues), the colon cancer cells change again into the same form as normal cells.
The research findings were published as the cover paper of the Jan. 2 edition of the “Molecular Cancer Research,” a journal of the American Association of Cancer Research.