UC Berkeley researcher Daniel Nomura has discovered how to stop the growth of malignant cancer cells by disabling an enzyme critical to the formation of a protein essential to cancer growth.
Nomura’s team succeeded in stopping the growth of malignant cancer tumors in mice by injecting them with a compound that disables an enzyme called AGPS which is critical to the formation of ether lipid. Ether lipids are fatty molecules that reside in cell membranes and provide the nourishment to feed the rapid growth of cancerous tumors.
The team began the study by injecting mice with cancerous skin cells and aggressive breast cancer cells to induce malignant tumors. Once the tumors were well established the team injected the mice with a compound that disables AGPS. The compound proved effective in completely suppressing tumor growth though it wasn’t able to do so in culture.
The role of ether lipids in cancer growth has been suspected since the 1950s but Nomura’s team is the first to show that the protein is essential to the proliferation of cancerous cells. Noting that ether lipids exist in benign tumors in lower levels, Nomura hopes to show that blocking AGPS will prevent the tumors from turning malignant.
Nomura’s team is now seeking to develop a drug that safely targets AGPS in humans.
“Certainly I don’t think the AGPS inhibitor is the cure for every cancer, but it would probably be combined with other chemotherapeutic agents,” says Nomura.
Daniel Nomura received both his BA and PhD at UC Berkeley, then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.
Nomura’s study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.