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Molecule’s ‘dark side’ can trigger cancer

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by Cancer Research UK | News

3 April 2008

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Cancer Research UK scientists have discovered that a common molecule previously known to play a fundamental role in building protein, can also trigger cancer. The surprise findings are published in Cell*.today (Thursday).

In previous work, the scientists based at Cancer Research UK’s Beatson Institute in Glasgow, found levels of a molecule called tRNA**, which helps kickstart protein production, were unusually high in some cases of ovarian and cervical cancer.

So in the new study, researchers boosted ovarian cells in the laboratory with extra tRNA and discovered the cells turned cancerous. Three different types of fibroblast cells*** also responded in a similar way, leading the team to believe their research may be applicable to many different forms of the disease.

Lead researcher, Professor Robert White, from the Beatson Institute, said: “For the first time our study shows that tRNA, a molecule which has always been regarded by scientists to play a safe and rather boring ‘housekeeping’ role, can have a darker side.

“A great deal of our work has been based on understanding the changes that take place a lot earlier in the cancerous process to kick-start the damage. We can now see that tRNA also plays a fundamental part in doing this. This finding will open up new and potentially important avenues for drug development.”

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information said: “This startling discovery raises serious questions about how important the tRNA will turn out to be in the complex chain of biological changes that cause cancer to develop. We now need to find out if the tRNA can be manipulated for the benefit of cancer patients.”


For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.