Researchers have found that a protein known for driving the growth of cancer also plays a surprising role in restoring the ability of neurons to regenerate , making it an important target for addressing spinal cord damage or neurological diseases like Alzheimers.
"The finding suggests that the same process this protein uses for proliferating cancer could also potentially be used to regrow axons that are damaged in spinal cord injuries or neurological diseases," said lead study author Antonio Iavarone, associate professor of neurology and pathology at Columbia University Medical Center's Institute for Cancer Genetics.
The proteins known as Id proteins are abundant in the cells of different types of cancer, including brain, breast cancer and pediatric tumors and were known to promote tumor growth and aid the spread of cancer.
While searching for ways to attack Id's cancer-causing properties, Iavarone and Anna Lasorella, assistant professor of pediatrics and pathology at the Institute, discovered the neuron-healing properties of Id proteins.
Their initial findings, published in 'The Nature', are significant for potential cancer therapies. The researchers found that an enzyme inside normal cells - called APC usually degrades Id proteins soon after they are produced, but cancerous cells show a very high level of Id proteins.
This suggests that re-introducing the APC enzyme into cancer cells could eliminate the proteins and arrest the growth of tumor cells, something that researchers will now investigate.