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UC Scientist Discovers What Makes Tumors Grow And Multiply

UC cancer researcher Atsuo Sasaki has unlocked the feeding mechanism important for tumor growth.
UC cancer researcher Atsuo Sasaki has unlocked the feeding mechanism important for tumor growth.

Atsuo Sasaki, Ph.D., associate professor at the UC College of Medicine, says there's an FDA-approved drug that can shrink brain and other types of inoperable cancer in animal models by targeting the energy production mechanism of cancerous cells.

"The nucleolus is the 'eye' of the cancer storm that ravages patients' bodies," Sasaki says. "Being able to control the eye would be a true game-changer in cancer treatment." He and researchers from Japan's Keio and Hiroshima universities discovered what drives the growth of the nucleolus and causes tumors to rapidly multiply.

Researchers have known for a long time that an enlarged nucleolus propels the increased production of ribosome, which leads to cancer cells. But exactly how the nucleolus produces this massive amount of ribosome in cancerous cells wasn't clear - until now.

Sasaki and others have identified the building block prevalent in cancer cells as GTP, the energy production mechanism of cancerous cells. "Fortunately there is an FDA-approved drug against this enzyme," he says. It's brand name is CellCept.

Sasaki is still testing the drug in animal models and doesn't know if it can penetrate the blood brain barrier. But he's hopeful.

Dr. Trisha Wise-Draper, medical director of UCCI Clinical Trials, says if not this drug, something else. "So essentially, going into early phase clinical trials, if the inhibiting of this enzyme is not as strong as he would like then he would work with others on new drugs to inhibit this pathway."

The target for brain cancer is the same target in lung cancer and other genetic diseases. An effective drug could give patients more options, such as eliminating the need for surgery.

Sasaki's findings were published Aug. 1 in the journalNature Cell Biology.

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With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.