Melbourne | In a finding that could lead to the development of new and improved cancer drugs, scientists have unveiled the inner workings of a group of proteins that help to switch critical genes on and off during blood-cell production.
One of the proteins involved is linked to breast cancer, which is the most common cancer for women and kills more than half a million women around the world each year.
Existing breast cancer treatments do not target this protein specifically, researchers said.
Daniel Ryan from The Australian National University (ANU) said the study could help explain how existing breast-cancer drugs work inside human cells.
There are treatments for breast cancer which are in use today that are effective but we still do not know how they work, said Ryan.
This research shines a light on an important set of proteins that could be targeted by these drugs and superior treatments yet to be developed, he said.
The research seeks to understand the mechanisms for gene regulation, particularly in relation to diseases such as cancer and blood disorders.
By creating better targeted treatments for breast cancer and other serious diseases, we will have better outcomes for patients because we will be able to reduce toxicity and the risk of drug resistance, said Ryan.
Researchers described how a special group of proteins form into an enzyme that turns genes on and off to produce essential elements in the body, such as blood cells and stem cells.
This enzyme is like a car and the proteins are the different parts that are used to make it.
By knowing how these parts fit together, we can understand how the car works and hence we are in a better position to fix it when something goes wrong, said Ryan.
The ongoing research will help scientists advance their knowledge of how genes are regulated – a phenomenon that is not only vital to normal functions in the body, but also a key factor in many diseases, researchers said.
It also may lead to the development of new and improved cancer drugs, they said.
The findings were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.