The study by an international consortium of researchers from Rice University, the University of North Texas, Denton (UNT); the University of California, San Diego (UCSD); and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, may offer a path to therapies that could slow or stop tumours from developing.
The research found that reducing the expression of a pair of proteins known as NEETs - NAF-1 and mitoNEET - significantly reduced cancer cell proliferation and breast cancer tumour size.
The research stemmed from a recent Rice's Center for Theoretical Biological Physics (CTBP) study of the shape and functions of one of the proteins, mitoNEET. The other protein, NAF-1, is closely related to mitoNEET.
CTBP co-director Jose Onuchic, a biological physicist at Rice, said the new study was triggered by the team's recognition of a connection between NEETs and reduced rates of breast cancer among women who take a diabetes drug that targets mitoNEET.
"NEET proteins play a key role in the overall stress response of cells," Onuchic said.
"Anytime you stress a system, these proteins are there to help, but in cases where cells are overcome by stress, NEETs can become highly overexpressed. That's what drew our interest in a potential connection to cancer," he said.
NEET proteins transport iron molecules or iron sulfur clusters inside cells. The proteins naturally adhere to the outer surface of the mitochondria, the ‘power plant’ that supplies cells with chemical energy.
The experiment found an overabundance of both mutant and NAF-1 in breast cancer cells. Moreover, the team found a direct correlation between NEET protein levels and the overall progression of the disease.
The results suggest that the overabundance of NEETs is a factor in the runaway growth of cancer cells, and that would make NEETs a prime target for anticancer drugs.


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