A recent discovery by scientists at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital may change the way we attempt to kill cancerous tumor cells. This new revelation revolves around the infamous tumor suppressor protein, p53.
This suppressor protein is known as the “Guardian of the Genome” and is so critical to cancer research and treatment because the job of this protein is to prevent tumors from forming in the first place. P53 takes these preventive measures by inciting damaged or borderline cells to stop dividing or even die. In most cases of cancer, the protein or the pathway in charge of p53 does not function properly or at all. In the absence of a functioning p53 protein, the cells in this tumor are able to grow and divide.
The protein P53 functions within the nucleus of the cell, although earlier research suggested that it also works outside of the nucleus in order to trigger cell death.
The exciting new research into how p53 actually works reveals how they actually are able to trigger cell death. Scientists now understand that p53 works in the cytoplasm in order to trigger death of those tumors using apoptosis. The data gathered from this research also exposes how, in the near future, molecules could potentially be used to trigger this same process that ultimately destroys cancer cells and acts as a viable treatment option and strategy for those afflicted with cancer.
Through understanding how p53 targets and attacks these cancerous cells, the scientists hope to eventually replicate this process for people with nonfunctioning p53 proteins.
According to Douglas Green, Ph.D and chair of the St. Jude Department of Immunology – as well as a co-author of this study, “The p53 protein is almost universally regarded as working in the nucleus and was thought to have no function in other parts of the cell,” he claimed. “Our study provides the first biophysical insights into how p53 can have another function, one with important consequences for cancer.”
While this is still new information and has yet to be synthesized into an actionable treatment strategies, this discovery has the very real potential of being the basis for a complete change in how the medical community approaches treating the disease.