The study by researchers in the Cell Signalling Unit, University of Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre could pave the way for new drugs which limit the protein's ability to turn a normal cell cancerous.
The protein, MDM2, normally functions to control the activity of a key cancer preventing protein called p53. In some of the body's cells, the biochemical ratio between MDM2 and p53 can become unbalanced causing MDM2 to act as a cancer-promoting agent.
The project's lead investigator, Dr Kathryn Ball, a researcher at the University, explains: 'One way in which MDM2 controls the p53 protein is by activating its destruction and we are interested in understanding how this happens at a biochemical level.'
'In the current study, funded by Cancer Research UK, we have identified protein fragments which can bind to MDM2, inhibiting its activity. These fragments could be a good template for drugs designed to hinder the role of MDM2 in the p53 destruction pathway. We hope our findings may lead to improved treatments for a broad range of cancer types.'
Welcoming the findings, Professor John Toy, medical director at Cancer Research UK, said: 'p53 is a crucial protein that acts as a guardian of the normal cell. Its failure to do its job properly is associated with many types of cancer. If p53 is being destroyed by another protein in a cancer cell, then it offers an excellent target when designing new anti-cancer drugs. This research suggests MDM2 is just such a target.'