Leicester research team identifies potential new targets for cancer treatments

Posted by ap507 at May 11, 2015 02:05 PM |
Research papers identify key steps in cell division – and potential to inhibit cancer cell division

Issued by the University of Leicester Press Office on 11 May

Contact pressoffice@le.ac.uk to request images

An international consortium of scientists led by a group from the University of Leicester has announced a new advance in understanding the mechanisms of cancer and how to target it more effectively with new treatments.

Two papers published in the same issue of the world-leading Journal of Cell Biology have arisen from research work led by Professor Andrew Fry at the University of Leicester.  Both papers suggest that new understanding of the mechanics of cell division can reveal new targets for cancer therapy.

Professor Fry, who is Director of Research in the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology at Leicester, said: “Together, these two papers provide exciting new insights on how cells ensure that they faithfully pass on the right amount of genetic material to their offspring when they divide. They also highlight potential new targets for the development of novel cancer treatments.

“These papers identify a series of key steps that orchestrate the mechanics of cell division and highlight novel targets that could be inhibited to block cancer cell division. Through working with outstanding collaborators in Leicester and across the world, our future goal is to exploit this new understanding of the biology that underlies cell division to develop more effective medicines that will allow better treatments for patients with a wide range of cancers.”

With funding from Worldwide Cancer Research, Cancer Research UK, The Wellcome Trust, BBSRC, Medical Research Council and Hope Against Cancer, a Leicestershire and Rutland-based charity, Professor Fry’s group within the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Leicester has been studying the mechanics of cell division. Their aim is to gain new understanding on how this process is controlled in normal cells, how it goes wrong in cancer and how it might be targeted with drugs that can more effectively eradicate the tumour whilst causing less side-effects for cancer patients.

The first of these two papers, led by Dr Laura O’Regan, demonstrates that an enzyme called Nek6 controls the stability of the structural scaffold upon which the genetic material, encoded on chromosomes, is separated. They showed that Nek6 leads to recruitment onto this scaffold of a chaperone called Hsp70. Chaperones are proteins that act as cellular guardians folding proteins into their correct shape and assembling them into functional complexes. In the context of cancer, chaperones are particularly important as they protect cancer cells against the stressful environment of a tumour and keep them alive.

Not surprisingly then, there is growing interest from pharmaceutical companies in the development of chaperone inhibitors as novel anti-cancer therapies and the new findings provided in this paper will be key to identifying how best to use these new drugs to selectively kill cancer cells.

In the second paper, work led by Dr Suzanna Prosser demonstrated that an enzyme belonging to the same family as Nek6, in this case called Nek5, also provides a key function in enabling timely assembly of the structural scaffold required for chromosome division with loss of Nek5 leading to genetic damage.

The two papers are:

L. O’Regan, J. Sampson, M.W. Richards, A. Knebel, D. Roth, F.E. Hood, A. Straube, S.J. Royle, R. Bayliss, and A.M. Fry (2015) Hsp72 is targeted to the mitotic spindle by Nek6 to promote K-fiber assembly and mitotic progression. Journal of Cell Biology.

S.L. Prosser, N.K. Sahota, L. Pelletier, C.G. Morrison, and A.M. Fry (2015) Nek5 promotes centrosome integrity in interphase and loss of centrosome cohesion in mitosis. Journal of Cell Biology.




For interviews contact:  Professor Andrew Fry – 0116 229 7069/07525 431112; amf5@le.ac.uk

Cell division is a fundamental biological process essential to the survival of all living organisms. In humans, it is necessary for development from an embryo, created by fertilization of a single egg cell by a single sperm cell, to an adult composed of billions of cells. However, cell division is a complex business and loss of control can lead to cancer where a growing mass of cells develops in an uncontrolled fashion ultimately spreading throughout the body and causing death. Interestingly, loss of control over cell division also leads to genetic errors that can be passed on to offspring cells enhancing the progression of tumours from a benign to malignant state. Importantly though, as cancer progression requires constant division of cells, targeted approaches that block cell division can represent successful approaches for cancer therapy.

Image Caption

These microscope images show human cancer cells going through the process of division. The cell on the left is untreated whereas the cell on the right has lost Hsp70. This reveals how interfering with Hsp70 prevents assembly of the robust scaffold (green) on which chromosomes (blue) are separated. The red dots show where the scaffold attach to the chromosomes. Credit: University of Leicester

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. We provide more than £700 million a year to support bright minds in science, the humanities and the social sciences, as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine.

Our £18 billion investment portfolio gives us the independence to support such transformative work as the sequencing and understanding of the human genome, research that established front-line drugs for malaria, and Wellcome Collection, our free venue for the incurably curious that explores medicine, life and art.

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The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, BBSRC invested over £484M in world-class bioscience in 2013-14. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

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About Hope Against Cancer

Hope Against Cancer was set up in 2003 to increase the funds available for cancer research in Leicestershire and Rutland and make clinical trials more available to local people.  Surveys demonstrate that when patients with cancer are treated at cancer centres and units carrying out research, outcomes are significantly improved.

Around 5,000 people in Leicestershire are diagnosed with cancer each year and the region currently has hot spots of cancer associated with cultural and socio-economic factors and healthcare inequalities.

Since 2003, Hope has raised over £4m and funded over 40 research projects tackling many different forms of cancer.  In 2012 the charity established and opened a dedicated clinical trials unit - a partnership between the University of Leicester and Leicester’s Hospitals - at Leicester Royal Infirmary to offer patients access to new medicines and therapies, funding a dedicated HOPE Nurse to add to the care and support trials patients receive.  Hope has also been instrumental in the city of Leicester becoming a cancer research centre of excellence.  This will prioritise leading potential practice changes in early detection, prevention and treatment of cancers while continuing to identify research projects with a clear benefit for patients across the region.

Hope Against Cancer works closely with the Universities of Leicester and De Montfort and is grateful for their support. Visit their website at: http://www.hfcr.org/

Worldwide Cancer Research funds early stage research into all cancer types. We fund  this pioneering research wherever in the world it takes place. For further information on Worldwide Cancer Research please contact Beverley Hart on 07803151533.

About Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
  • Cancer Research UK’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
  • Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates in the UK double in the last forty years.
  • Today, 2 in 4 people survive cancer. Cancer Research UK’s ambition is to accelerate progress so that 3 in 4 people will survive cancer within the next 20 years.
  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 0300 123 1022 or visit www.cancerresearchuk.org. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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